Nova Scotia’s opposition leaders say the provincial government failed to do its due diligence before spending $34 million in a sole-sourced deal for an incomplete hotel it plans to convert into a site for some hospital patients.
“The whole thing stinks, frankly,” said NDP Leader Claudia Chender.
“Why on earth would the government let tens of millions of dollars go out the door without a procurement process, without any oversight for a building that experts say is unfit for the purpose — I think people should be concerned.”
Last month, the province completed the purchase of 21 Hogan Court in Bedford from Cresco Holdings Ltd. Cresco bought the property from the hotel developer, subdividing it to keep a piece of empty land, before selling the hotel building and parking lot to the government.
The government’s intention is to convert the building into a transitional care facility, a site that would house patients recovering in hospital who no longer need acute care beds, or who are occupying a bed while awaiting a long-term care placement.
But a report obtained by CBC expressed concerns about the building design and the ability to transform the space to meet the needs of patients awaiting a spot in long-term care.
“It is our opinion that even with costly and time-consuming redesign and renovations, the building cannot be adapted to suit the patient profile without severe restrictions on patient admission eligibility,” the report by Nycum Associates says.
“These restrictions would require the patients to fit the profile of a hotel guest. Patients awaiting a bed in a long-term care facility would not be eligible.”
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the government might have found better options if it issued a request for proposals for available buildings.
“When you have the experts come back and say this building is potentially not going to be able to accommodate the patients that you’re trying to support, that should raise some red flags.”
But Colton LeBlanc, the minister responsible for major health-care construction projects in the province, said the province bought the building with eyes wide open.
“We knew that this was a hotel,” he told reporters following a cabinet meeting Thursday.
“We bought a hotel. Any body that’s walked through the hallways of a hotel and has walked through the hallways of a long-term care facility recognizes that there is a significant difference.”
LeBlanc said the government would use the consultant’s report to guide the work that needs to be done to make the building appropriate for patients. A building under construction is just that until it is finished, he said.
“There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit.”
LeBlanc said the government opted against issuing a request for proposals because it wanted to find a site as quickly as possible. A market scan of available sites in Halifax Regional Municipality in December identified 21 Hogan Court as an opportunity.
The minister said the government learned that Cresco had the first right of refusal to buy the property and at that point the province asked the company about doing a deal.
December was also the month LeBlanc’s government announced a major hospital construction plan that included two transitional care facilities aimed at boosting bed capacity in the health-care system.
At the time, the public was told one transitional care facility would be constructed in Bayers Lake with an anticipated opening date of 2025, while the other would go in an existing building somewhere in HRM that would hopefully be ready in 2023.
“We went down this approach because, again, recognizing that time is important, we need to move this file quickly,” said LeBlanc. “We need beds — we needed beds eight years ago. We need capacity today.”
Combined, the two transitional care facilities are to have 195 beds.
Health Minister Michelle Thompson said a more detailed plan would be released in the spring, but the advantage of the Hogan Court was that it could be ready sooner than starting from scratch.
Thompson said it’s possible the Bayers Lake facility will be purpose built for people awaiting long-term care placements, while the Hogan Court property is used for patients who can return home when their recovery is complete.
“I think those things are still under consideration,” she told reporters.
Chender said the province could have expedited a request for proposals in an effort to act quickly while also providing more transparency, which would put any concerns to rest.
“But in the meantime, you know, the elderly patients in our hospitals and their families who are just waiting for their parents and loved ones to have a decent quality of life — particularly towards the end — are going to continue to wait because this isn’t ‘t going to work for them.”
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