Hospital site choice a botched operation

pg04-e-cartoonDon DimanligThe planned site for Ottawa’s new hospital campus has been chosen, but the path taken to reach it was unnecessarily convoluted.

The new Civic campus is now slated to be built at the former Sir John Carling building site on the Central Experimental Farm after many spoke out against the NCC’s top choice.

After six months of review, on Nov. 24 the federal commission recommended the new hospital be built at Tunney’s Pasture. The level ground, expansive parking space and proximity to public transit made it the NCC’s top pick. But the northerly location and the poor road access were serious drawbacks.

The hospital’s board of governors swiftly rejected the recommendation and then reportedly refused to meet with NCC officials to discuss the decision. The NCC’s plan ignited a public outcry and a hasty agreement among local powerbrokers —  including MP Catherine McKenna and Mayor Jim Watson — that the Carling site was best.

It should be worrying that those in charge did the equivalent of a toddler stamping their foot in anger after the NCC’s announcement.

Watson almost instantly threw his weight behind the Sir John Carling site and accused the NCC of not consulting hospital officials enough. What he meant, it seems, was that the hospital board hadn’t been informed Tunney’s would be the NCC’s top pick before the commission’s report was finalized and made public.

In a press release, board chair James McCracken said road access, costs and the uncertain timeline in developing a site already occupied by Health Canada were all good reasons for rejecting Tunney’s.

As NCC chairman Russ Mills said of the process in an interview with CBC: “It didn’t unfold exactly as planned.”

The commission reviewed 12 possible sites and hadn’t, in fact, reached a unanimous decision for its favoured location. Sir John Carling — its second choice — did. 

The site covers about 20 hectares southwest of the intersection of Carling Avenue and Preston Street. On the cusp of Centretown, the new campus will bring the Civic’s services closer to downtown Ottawa and near to the Carling station along the Trillium O-Train line.

Environmentalists aren’t pleased that what looks to be the final site for the new campus will be on the Experimental Farm — it isn’t the valuable research land originally identified as the best site by the former Conservative government, but on the farm nonetheless.

Many people have been left scratching their heads as they tried to make sense of the various twists and turns in this saga before the final decision. The problems began with the Tories’ original, out-of-the-blue choice of the farmland across from the current Civic — a decision announced before the public had been consulted at all, and which backfired badly.

Then came the NCC’s months-long, multi-stage public consultation and its long-awaited decision to go with Tunney’s — a choice abruptly rejected before everyone rallied around the Sir John Carling site.

The decision ultimately came down to the hospital board, though its own dealings with other stakeholders throughout the site-selection process have been messy at best. 

Pressure needs to be put on all the players in this sorry tale to do a better job of building and running this important new healthcare hub for Ottawa than they did in selecting its location.