The Newfoundland and Labrador government on Monday announced it plans to build a new hospital in St. John's but where, when — and how much it will cost — is still up in the air.
Premier Andrew Furey announced the plans at the 100-year-old St. Clare's Mercy Hospital, the facility the new hospital will replace. He said the hospital will be part of a "reimagining" of the way N.L.'s health-care system delivers care to its aging population.
"We know the health-care system is broken and we are committed to fixing it," said Furey.
Monday's announcement provided few specifics, like where the new hospital will be built. Furey said the site of the former Grace Hospital, just down the street from St. Clare's, is being considered.
"This is just the initial phase, so we're in the process of evaluating first what is needed. This is the start of a journey," Furey said.
"If the Grace ends up being the site there's already a parking facility partially made here."
Furey said the provincial government is hiring consultants this fall to begin the planning and is considering a public-private partnership for the project.
In a press release issued Monday morning, the province said the new hospital will include "consideration for early learning and child-care resources."
Furey would not give a timeline for when the facility could be built but said the province will move through consultations in an "accelerated fashion." If the Grace location is chosen for the site, he said, it'll also help in getting rid of the old nurses' residence, which has been left abandoned and vandalized for years and is an eyesore for the area's residents and businesses.
Furey said replacing St. Clare's will be another improvement to the region's health-care infrastructure, joining the construction of the new adult mental health and addictions hospital at the Health Sciences Centre, which is expected to be completed by late 2024.
And earlier this year, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure issued a tender to expand the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre. A contract has not yet been awarded.
Furey said the new facility will help with the province's health staff recruitment and retention effort and will increase the province's acute bed capacity, adding that the St. John's metro region's population has increased by 25 per cent since 2000, when the Grace closed.
"The acute-care bed capacity has not really changed materially in that time," he said.
"The reality is we're treating more people for more things as they live longer. There is going to be significant demand for acute-care beds and we need to make sure we're planning for that."
Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn told reporters following the announcement that a new hospital has a "certain merit" but questioned whether it would be used to the best of its ability.
"You still need people. Whenever we hear of bed closures, it's not to do with a lack of beds — it's the lack of staff to man them," he said.
It's a human resources issue, he said.
"I can understand that having a new, modern facility with the best equipment is attractive but if you listen to the nurses, if you listen to the doctors, if you listen to anyone in health care, the key thing that they mention over and over again has to be work-life balance and quality of life."
Progressive Conservative MHA Barry Petten said he's all for a new hospital but Monday's announcement doesn't do anything to address current problems.
"Everyone would like to see a new hospital, but we've got a long-term care facility down in Pleasant View [Towers] that got beds closed cause we got a lack of staff," Petten said. "So now we're going to build this hospital that may take 10 years, so it's like a long-term plan but it's not dealing with the immediate problem."
Petten also questioned the timing of the announcement, as a new hospital wasn't mentioned in Newfoundland and Labrador's Health Accord report, a 10-year blueprint for revamping the province's health-care system.
"Where's the feasibility study? Like, is anything going to be provided?" Petten asked. "It's fine making an announcement now [but] this is something you do around budget time. I don't get it."