The top infrastructure bureaucrat for the province says using a public-private partnership model for some of the redevelopment of health-care sites in the Halifax area should produce major savings for taxpayers, but Paul LaFleche said government isn't "ideologically wed to things."
LaFleche, the deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, made the comments Tuesday during an appearance before the legislature's standing committee on health.
"We're looking for the best value," LaFleche told reporters following the meeting.
"We've modelled what results we should anticipate and we're hopeful that we get those anticipated results. If we don't get those anticipated results, we'll go back to treasury board and have a conversation with them."
Although opposition MLAs pressed for information about a study Deloitte provided government making the business case to use public-private partnerships for the expansion of the Halifax Infirmary site and a new outpatients clinic in Bayers Lake, LaFleche said that information would only be released once contracts are awarded for the two projects.
The expansion of the infirmary site, which will include a new outpatient clinic, cancer centre, 36 new inpatient beds and three new operating rooms, will make way for the demolition of the decrepit Victoria General building. It's part of the $2-billion redevelopment of the Queen Elizabeth II hospital system.
Dr. David Kirkpatrick, chief of surgery for the QEII, said consolidating services at the infirmary site would eliminate about 3,500 patient transfers a year over the 500-metre distance between the two sites. That efficiency alone would improve patient care and reduce waits, he said.
"We have ambulances taking people back and forth down the street all the time and that's delaying the delivery of care."
Kirkpatrick said those back and forths also extend to health-care staff, and he expected removing the need for them to travel between two sites would also improve services for patients.
Officials with the Nova Scotia Health Authority also outlined the planned services for the Bayers Lake site, which is intended for people travelling from outside the Halifax Regional Municipality, as well as the growing population in the Clayton Park area.
Paula Bond, vice-president of clinical infrastructure for the health authority, said services would include primary care, diagnostic imaging, blood collection, 24 dialysis stations, medical/surgical clinics and an orthopedic assessment clinic, and operate daily during business hours.
Bond said hours would be re-evaluated once the site opens and there would also be a concerted effort on more co-ordinated services, so people with multiple needs aren't being required to make unnecessary trips.
"We shake our heads when we see a patient being brought in for one clinic visit one day and another clinic visit another day and blood work another day," Bond told the committee.
The plan for the two projects is to have short lists of three bidders announced in the coming months. The contract for the Bayers Lake work is expected to be awarded next spring, while the contract for the Halifax Infirmary work will be awarded by March 2021.
'We've got to do a better job'
New Democrat MLA Susan LeBlanc said she'd like to see some kind of comparison between the public-private partnership approach and a traditional build to understand why Deloitte favoured the former and provide some reassurance to the public.
"We don't even need exact numbers," she told reporters.
"[But] we also need to know that we're not selling Nova Scotians down the river and putting tons and tons of money — and I'm talking millions of dollars — into the pockets of corporate shareholders."
LaFleche offered to take committee members through the methodology used to reach the decision. He also acknowledged concerns from opposition MLAs that not enough has been done to inform the public about the scope of the redevelopment project, its timelines and what it will mean for patient services.
"We've got to do a better job of that."
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