Left to right: (front row) Lena Diab, MLA Halifax Armdale: Paula Bond, VP, NS Health Authority; (back row) David Bell, urology specialist; Premier Stephen McNeil. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The province’s purchase of 15 acres in the Bayers Lake Business Park to build a new Community Outpatient Centre was supposed to be a good news announcement for the McNeil government today. Certainly for those interested in seeing a replacement for services housed in the leaky and decrepit Victoria General Hospital — where you can’t drink the water and where some of the sickest patients continue to receive care — the prospect of moving to another location some diagnostic tests, dialysis, and patient consultations with specialists is a hopeful sign.

Premier Stephen McNeil was on hand to make the announcement alongside a senior vice-president with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Health Minister Leo Glavine was apparently busy elsewhere.

McNeil was quick to point out that the Centre’s Bayers Lake location — behind Home Outfitters on Chain Lake Drive — is near both Highway 103 and Highway 102.

“We often hear Nova Scotians say traffic and parking are major concerns when travelling to the VG site of the QE2 Health Sciences Centre, and this location will provide convenient access for many people who travel to appointments from out-of-town,” said McNeil.

True. But then the good news announcement took a sharp turn. CBC reporter Jean Laroche asked the Premier what he thought about the fact the province paid $7.5 million for property owned by Besim Halef of Banc Developments. Halef is a successful developer who also contributed $3,000 to the provincial Liberal party in 2013 and  is a board member of the QE2 Health Sciences Centre Foundation, the fundraising arm for the hospital.

“It had nothing to do with it,” said the premier, in response to any potential whiff of conflict-of-interest. “We don’t see a conflict. What we focused on where was the best site for access. To be frank, I didn’t even know who owned this site.”

McNeil said the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal checked out 14 potential sites before narrowing the cabinet’s choice to two options, both at Bayers Lake. Interestingly, McNeil says he was told the other option was the former Rona hardware boxstore and that parking access wasn’t as favourable there as at the blind or unidentified site owned by Halef.

Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill was on-site for today’s announcement and he was critical on two fronts.

“This location is inconvenient beyond belief for people who don’t have a car,” said the United Church minister. “It is troubling from that point of view and it is troubling from the point of view of the Liberal party’s record. They’ve got a well-established record of making decisions in ways that are particularly helpful to their inner circle, so this is of great concern.”

It should be pointed out that while Besim Halef and his son Alex ($700) were both contributors to the provincial Liberals in 2013, Besim Halef also donated $2,000 to the Progressive Conservatives in 2006 — Bedford PC candidate Len Goucher got the donation from the senior Halef.

Today’s announcement was a signal the McNeil Liberals are paying more than lip service to the promise to demolish the VG in 2022 and are planning multimillion dollar renovations and new buildings to house its present services.

Paula Bond, the vice president in charge of Integrated Health Services for the Nova Scotia Health Authority and a former ER nurse for 25 years, said the current government has done more to move the project along than any other for which she’s worked.

As one example, the government is spending $3.8 million to outfit an unused operating room at the Hants Community Hospital in Windsor that will eventually be used for orthopedic, general, and plastic surgery, doubling its capacity to nearly 800 operations a year.

The proposed Bayers Lake Community Outpatient Centre will be about the same size as the Cobequid Health Centre in Sackville (100-150,000 sq ft) and include some of the same services (Emergency and Physiotherapy). It will be used by specialists for patient consultations and dialysis.

The exact composition of outpatient services Bayers Lake will provide still has to be finalized with the help of the government’s hired master planners, Kasian Architecture.  Their $1.9 million report is due at the end of this year and will include a preliminary cost estimate to replace services now at the VG site.

The Outpatient Centre could be built through a P3 or Public Private Partnership, the Premier said a tender will be awarded later this spring to study the business case for using P3 to build new facilities or expand the number of operating rooms at the Halifax Infirmary and Dartmouth General.

Site preparation work at the future home of the Bayers Lake Community Outpatient Centre could start in July 2018 — well after the next provincial election.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. This should have an investigation launched. If Quebec, a place where corruption was/is an acknowledged fact, can have an anti-corruption police squad that investigates abuses of power/funds surely little old Nova Scotia should be having a look at corruption. I know people will say there are few choices when it comes to contracts but that’s no excuse. People who work in construction know there is collusion in the industry but have no one to talk to. It would not be surprising if Mr. McNeil was on his cellphone hashing out this deal. We know he writes nothing down to avoid leaving evidence.

  2. It’s kind of hard to figure if this is a good idea in terms of placement for this health centre.

    We do have to start building healthcare infrastructure away from downtown Halifax. Working in the inpatient services portfolio at the HI, patients tell me that it is difficult to get downtown for appointments and procedures –even when they do own a car or have a ride. Having hospital services on the cusp of our metro areas can make things better for both urban and rural folks as far as access is concerned. It can also be good for emergency services, as they don’t have to filter through a whole bunch of intersections and single-lane streets to get out to an emergency-area or residence, and then back to the hospital –though, if someone needs specialized emergency treatment, you’d still have to come downtown. Keeping all that in mind, getting off the peninsula makes sense from my perspective.

    This new site would be most beneficial for populations in the South shore and, arguably, Hants and Kings counties. But are these areas already under serviced? Does population growth support a whole new collaborative health centre in Bayers Lake? When you look at the 2016 population growth data in those counties (County Census Tracts), you get negative growth in Lunenburg and Queens Counties (-0.4% and -5.6%, respectively), a flatline of population growth in Kings County, and a minor increase in Hants County (0.6%). Furthermore, you have the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, and Fishermans Memorial Hospital in Lunenburg. There is expansion of the Hants Community Hospital in Windsor (noted in this article), and then there’s the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville (King’s county). So there is already a good concentration of hospital infrastructure in these regions. In fact the NS Auditor General has indicated that there is a bit of over-saturation along that stretch of the South Shore. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of need for this new collaborative centre to be in Bayers Lake, really. But is it still the best location when compared to the other 13 sites that were considered? Not knowing where those sites were located, I certainly can’t say.

    Just gotta give a shoutout to Pictou! Those folks are hurting for Family Doctors. The money spent on this Bayers Lake site might have been better spent on attracting new GPs to that area. But I guess a slow, tedious recruitment process like that is less photogenic leading into an election period.

  3. I think it would make more sense to move services from these facilities to existing facilities — like the Dartmouth General, Cobequid Multi-Service, Cape Breton Regional, St Martha’s, Valley Regional — rather than building something new in a retail business park.