Details of new health facility at old Grace Hospital site need to be worked out, government says

Health Minister Tom Osborne announced the Downtown Health and Well-being Centre on Friday.
Health Minister Tom Osborne announced the Downtown Health and Well-Being Centre on Friday. (Mark Quinn)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government says a new health-care facility — to be built at the site of the former Grace Hospital in St. John's — will fill important health-care gaps, but the critics say the province is better at announcing plans than delivering results.

Health Minister Tom Osborne and Infrastructure Minister John Abbott announced Friday morning that the site — cleared in February — will become the Downtown Health and Well-being Centre.

Abbott has high expectations for the facility, which is set to offer various services, many of which will target the downtown area's most vulnerable populations.

"It's going to be a monumental facility, one that is overdue for the downtown and for the city at large," Abbott said.

The centre will provide urgent care and primary care, mental health and addictions services, and psychiatry/psychosis intervention, among other services, for downtown residents.

Twenty in-patient beds will be available at the centre. Sixteen will act as a transition for patients returning from the mental health and addictions hospital. Four beds will be available for people experiencing an active mental health crisis. The Pleasantville Recovery Centre is also moving its services to the new facility.

The provincial government says the timeline and cost will be determined after an architectural request for proposals has been issued.

The faced area is the former site of the Grace Hospital.
The new facility will be built on the site of the former Grace Hospital. (Mark Quinn)

Osborne estimates it will take five to six years to complete the facility — and will have price tag in nine figures.

"We know that it's going to be in excess of 100,000 square feet and roughly $100 million. The final costs will be determined obviously through RFP and what bids we get," Osborne said.

Plans but no action

PC Health and infrastructure critic Barry Petten said he's tired hearing the provincial government make announcements without action.

"It's photo ops, smoke and mirrors. You do these announcements and they're all fine and they make people feel good, but there's no substance beyond no timelines. There's no budget to work," Petten said, referencing the province's announcement last year on replacing St. Clare's Mercy Hospital. The government has not decided where the replacement facility will be located.

NDP Leader Jim Dinn pointed to the replacement of Her Majesty's Penitentiary, the 165-year-old prison on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's.

A replacement of the aging prison was promised in 2019 — with an estimated price tag of $200 million — and had been scheduled to be completed in 2022. Work has not yet begun.

"The government is very good when it comes to the plans. Not so much on the delivery I figure," Dinn said.

With the province experiencing a shortage of health-care workers, Petten also said he's concerned about where staff will come from for the new facility.

Osborne sees it as a non-issue,

"Our recruitment missions are working, our recruitment initiatives are working. We now have more people entering health care than are retiring or leaving health care, and that's for the first time in three or four or five years that we have more people entering than leaving," he said.

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