Hospital goes to public with pitch, but public won't get say in location

Left to Right: Catherine McKenna, Yasir Naqvi, Dr. Jack Kitts / PHOTO: Ottawa Citizen

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Elizabeth Payne

It is time for Ottawa residents to “resolve our differences” over the location of a new Civic hospital and forge a plan for a new one, The Ottawa Hospital’s chief executive, Dr. Jack Kitts, said Monday.

Kitts, in an interview at the first public consultations on a new Civic campus, said the nearly century-old existing Civic has outlived its lifespan and, without a modern replacement, “I don’t think health care would be as good as it should be.”

It will take 10 to 15 years to build a new $2-billion hospital and time is of the essence. But a key question remains: Where the hospital will go?

Kitts said the federal government will play an important role in answering the question. And, although the public will be asked for input into many details, it will not help to decide where it will go. There has been “confusion” about consultation, he acknowledged.

“The federal government owns the land and we are working very closely to determine what is best for the city and looking at the impact on heritage and research at the (Central Experimental Farm). We have to be able to find a win-win here.”

Concerns about the possible use of historic experimental farm fields for a hospital were on the minds of many at Monday’s consultation at the Ottawa Conference & Event Centre. The crowd of close to 500 applauded when a resident called the farm “Ottawa’s key asset.”

The National Farmers Union handed out Save CEF (Central Experimental Farm) pins made of canning jar lids and retired research scientist Clarke Topp manned a booth with information about some of the world-renowned research in the fields that would have to be dug up for the hospital if it is built on 60 acres there as originally planned. The hospital is now rethinking that plan and reviewing other sites.

Kitts told the crowd — some of whom were bused from the neighbourhood near the hospital by Coun. Jeff Leiper — that he is sensitive to their concerns about the experimental farm. “I assure you we are working with the federal government and the city to address those concerns,” he said.

He said the impact on research at the farm will be a key factor in evaluating new sites.

Kitts apologized for taking so long to hold a public consultation on what he called “the most important city building initiative that our community has undertaken.” He said he regrets “allowing the issue of  where we build this great hospital to almost overshadow the more important question of what we are going to build.”

More than a year after announcing the new Civic would be built across from the current Civic, the hospital has gone back to the drawing board, responding to public concern and pressure from the federal Liberal government.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who has expressed concern with the plan to build on the farm, was among those who spoke Monday.

The hospital is now looking at three additional sites, including the same farm site reconfigured to reduce impact on farm research, the site of the former Sir John Carling building at the east edge of the farm, and Tunney’s Pasture.

Kitts said the hospital is gathering information about the four sites and will submit it to the federal government by the end of this month. How the final decision is made, he said, is partly up to the federal  government. Hospital chief operating officer Cameron Love said he would like to see a decision by the end of the summer.

Ottawa is one of a number of communities across the province with plans for a multibillion-dollar super hospital in coming years and vying for limited provincial dollars.

Former Conservative MP John Baird and Kitts initially announced the hospital expansion in 2014 during a surprise reveal, a decision — made without public consultation — that proved instantly controversial.