Despite chronic hospital staff shortages, Quebec's cash-strapped government yesterday approved a $995-million budget -nearly double the cost of the initial plan -to upgrade and expand Ste. Justine children's hospital.
The investment confirms Ste. Justine's position as the province's -and the country's -largest mother-and-child health facility and research centre, Quebec Premier Jean Charest said yesterday at a news conference with Health Minister Yves Bolduc, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand and Environment Minister Pierre Arcand.
The project's importance cannot be underestimated as a recruitment tool of skilled personnel and researchers, the premier said.
"It says: 'There's a future here.' It's a very powerful thing. We're very conscious of that," Charest said. "Apart from the fact that we're doing the research in French, which in Quebec is very important."
The government is investing $925 million, with the Ste. Justine university hospital foundation putting in $70 million.
The funds will cover the construction of two new buildings, one for a research centre and one for specialized units that will house neonatal and pediatric intensive care, neonatology and birthing rooms, surgical and medical imaging.
The new buildings will increase Ste. Justine's size by 65 per cent to 200,000 square metres.
The research centre will have 82 wet laboratories for basic research, plus a dry lab floor for clinical research. Also, the hospital's current count of 170 full-and part-time researchers is to increase to 250.
By the time the overhaul is complete, the hospital will have 419 new single-room beds, 216 in the new buildings and 158 in the renovated facility.
Charest asked and then answered his own question: What does the government's investment say about the Montreal Children's Hospital (part of the McGill University Health Centre)?
"Both are fulfilling important missions. In other words, there's certainly enough research and work to be done for both of them," he said, adding construction of the Children's new hospital is starting at the Glen Yards.
"We'll be putting a shovel in the ground at the Children's soon and we've been involved in that and both of them are magnificent institutions," he said of the two pediatric institutions
The Children's will have 154 pediatric single-patient rooms. Arthur Porter, head of the McGill University Health Centre, could not be reached for comment.
Former Children's director Nicholas Steinmetz said that in a province the size of Quebec, having two specialized children's hospitals is hardly a luxury.
If there was only one and there was a problem, such as an outbreak of infectious disease, he asked: "Where would the children go?"
The advantage at the Children's is its proximity to adult services, he said.
Ste. Justine expects to put a call for tenders this fall and construction is to start
in 2011. New construction is to be completed by 2016 with the entire renovation done in 2018.
The overhaul is traditional, which means it is not a private-public partnership.
The hospital's Grandir en sante modernization program includes the expansion of the Charles Bruneau Cancer Centre in 2007.
Within minutes of yesterday's announcement, opposition Parti Quebecois health critic Bernard Drainville issued a statement that taxpayers will be on the hook for a project that is twice as expensive as initially planned and that will take twice as
long to complete.
When announced in 2006, the modernization project was pegged at $503 million with a delivery date of 2014.
"Before anyone says that it's already gone over budget ... it's not the same project -it's bigger and has more researchers," Charest said earlier in the day in anticipation of such criticism.
Charest said Ste. Justine will provide jobs for 8,000 health workers and with construction on the superhospitals -the McGill University Health Centre and Centre hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal -that number will jump to 21,000 employees.
Operating budgets are not on the radar yet, Charest said.
"We're going to start by launching the project," he said, but staffing shortages are already being addressed with new medical school enrolment and nursing retention programs.
"It's rare that we have good news," said surgeon and transplant specialist Michel Lallier who came by the news conference in blue OR fatigues after surgery.
"It's a good investment for our patients."