Opposition roasts government in Question Period on Sask. Hospital report

The opposition New Democrats continue to hammer away at the government on ongoing issues at the new Saskatchewan Hospital in North Battleford.

The latest fuel for the opposition’s fire came on June 24 last week, from a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives titled “A Partnership in Name Only: How the public sector subsidized the P3 model.”

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The report was heavily critical of the use of private-public partnerships, including in the designing and building of Sask. Hospital. Workers at the hospital were interviewed for that report, and they outlined a host of problems at the facility.

According to the report’s contents, “workers told us that due to a flaw in the water system, extremely hot water was entering the toilets, and that people were ‘burning their butts’ when they flushed. We also heard a lot about the flooding and water damage that has recently received so much media attention. While our interviewees made mention of the problems with the roof, they also informed us that the building was experiencing water damage from other sources. “There’s all sorts of water problems, busted pipes,” one informant told us. Another worker reported that every single shower unit in the building has to be replaced due to faulty valves that continually leak. The result of all this water damage and flooding is that patients in the hospital have to be constantly moved as wards are repaired and cleaned.”

The NDP promptly issued a news release citing the report, in turn blasting the government for using out of province companies in the design.

“Saskatchewan people spent good money on this badly needed hospital, but unfortunately, most of that money went to out-of-province companies that clearly cut corners,” said opposition leader Ryan Meili in a statement. “The Sask. Party stuck us with a non-functional facility where you could steep tea in the toilets, but you can’t drink the water.”

The news release also noted the hospital “continues to sit half empty because of a series of building issues, from the replacement of the walls and roof due to faulty materials, to lead and copper in the water rendering it undrinkable for more than a year, to ongoing problems with the plumbing.” The NDP noted that in committee it was revealed that of 188 health beds it was only two thirds full. On the corrections side half the units were shuttered.

In Question Period June 24, Meili asked deputy premier Gord Wyant about the audit of the facility. “We were promised last session an audit of this albatross. Where’s that audit?”

According to the record in Hansard, Wyant responded the deficiencies were covered in the P3.

“Well, Mr. Speaker, this is precisely the benefit of having a P3 [public-private partnership] project,” Wyant said. He added that an “RFP [request for proposal] was issued for a third party audit to the entire facility, Mr. Speaker, to identify those deficiencies. Phase 1 of that work has been done, Mr. Speaker. Phase 2 is currently in process of getting that evaluation under way, Mr. Speaker, and we’re anticipating the results of that evaluation this summer.”

Meili then turned his focus on the CCPA report.

“You know, in a report released today, along with patients being unable to drink the water, hospital employees told researchers that due to flaws in the water system, extremely hot water was entering the toilets and patients were, I quote, ‘burning their butts,’ Mr. Speaker. You can’t drink the water but you can steep tea in the toilets in this brand new hospital. Mr. Speaker, you can’t make this stuff up.

“... My question for the Premier is this: is this the result of the government’s complete mismanagement of this build, complete catastrophe when it comes to building this project? Or is it just their inability to properly staff the facility? Or does it seem to be the obvious, which is both?”

Deputy premier Wyant responded as follows:

“Mr. Speaker, the audit’s under way, Mr. Speaker. We’ll have the results of that evaluation within this summer, Mr. Speaker. And I want to remind the Leader of the Opposition of the conversation that they had with the director of SHNB [Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford] on their most recent tour, Mr. Speaker. The director said, and I quote:

“‘We were honest and said that the remediation has not impacted our day-to-day functioning. We spoke about the good relationship, communication we’ve had with all the partners, and how the schedules for any remediation work is done with patients and staff needs being at the forefront.’

“Mr. Speaker, the patients at SHNB are well taken care of, Mr. Speaker. The work that’s being done in there is not impacting the delivery of service at that hospital, Mr. Speaker. Certainly some challenges, Mr. Speaker. They’re going to be redressed as soon as the remediation report is completed, Mr. Speaker, and that remediation will be done at the cost of the consortium, not at the cost of the taxpayer of Saskatchewan.”

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