Halifax Infirmary redevelopment might not be enough to meet future health-care needs, says official

Work at the Halifax Infirmary has so far included a new pedway linking the hospital and a new parking garage and renovations to the entrances on Summer Street and Robie Street. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Work at the Halifax Infirmary has so far included a new pedway linking the hospital and a new parking garage and renovations to the entrances on Summer Street and Robie Street. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

The interim CEO of Nova Scotia Health says it's not known whether the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary will be sufficient to meet the needs of the province's growing population.

Karen Oldfield told reporters at Province House on Wednesday that an additional building could be required as part of the Queen EIizabeth II New Generation project.

"That's very much what we're consumed with, is ensuring that what we do will meet the needs of Nova Scotia sooner rather than later," she said. "The current procurement will only solve part of the problem."

The lone bidder on the Halifax Infirmary project is scheduled to deliver its submission to the province by Oct. 27. CBC News previously reported that the cost of the work could top $3 billion — $1 billion more than the original estimate for all components of the New Generation project, which also includes work at the hospitals in Dartmouth and Windsor and a new outpatient clinic in Bayers Lake.

During an appearance at the legislature's standing committee on public accounts on Wednesday, Oldfield and other government officials declined to comment on price projections for the infirmary work, citing the open tender. Officials have pledged to provide the public with an update once the tender closes.

Dave Laughlin/CBC
Dave Laughlin/CBC

"There's nothing sinister happening here," said Oldfield. "We are in a procurement process."

One thing that is known is that the scope of the project has not changed since it was first announced in 2015. That's concerning for some observers because the design was set before Nova Scotia's recent population boom. Although there were recommendations to augment the project, Oldfield said there were "legal ramifications" around the procurement process that was already underway. She declined to elaborate.

Population boom causes challenges

Updated projections show the provincial population will be 15 per cent higher by 2035 than what was predicted when the Infirmary redevelopment project was designed. Halifax Regional Municipality's population is expected to grow by 30 per cent more than the original forecast.

As officials wait to see what happens with the Infirmary tender, Oldfield said a building the New Generation project is intended to replace also needs attention.

The Victoria General Hospital suffers from a host of issues, including water not fit to drink. Oldfield said the core services at that site, including 16 operating rooms, need to be protected until they can be moved elsewhere.

"I am concerned about that and that's something I'm very focused on," she said.

Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press

Although there are no imminent plans for work at the hospital, Oldfield said engineers are evaluating it. She pointed to the hospital's air conditioning as one of the problems that needs to be addressed in the short term.

"That's a problem I'd dearly love to solve and things of that nature where it can be solved."

There will be costs associated with that work that are not accounted for in the New Generation project, said Oldfield.

Opposition MLAs expressed concern on Wednesday about what they said was insufficient transparency around the project and a lack of information about what steps would be taken to address any shortfalls created by a growing  population.

Outpatient clinic on schedule, budget

Meanwhile, the new outpatient centre being constructed in Bayers Lake seems to be something of an infrastructure unicorn.

In these times of high inflation and rising labour and material costs, an official with the Public Works Department said the project is on schedule and on budget.

"It's really a little ahead of schedule," Gerard Jessome, chief executive of engineering and building infrastructure, told reporters.

"We're doing very well there."

Jessome said construction is scheduled to be complete next summer, at which point the health authority will take over the building and prepare it for opening likely in early 2024.