Today I think of the late Newfoundland industrialist Craig Dobbin. Dobbin founded a number of construction and real estate companies, as well as Canadian Helicopters Company, which was second only to the US military in terms of helicopter ownership, as well as Air Atlantic. In an interview he laughingly told me his father wasn’t necessarily a good businessman, but he was a happy one. Dobbin said, “He’d calculate the profit on the order (of lumber), and he’d calculate the profit again when he delivered it, and he’d calculate the profit when he sold it and then he’d add up all three profits. He enjoyed it three times.”
So it is with political announcements. Today, it was announced that construction for a 12-chair dialysis unit at the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville would start in 2017. According to today’s announcement, the unit will be operational in 2019.
This is the latest in a series of announcements about a new dialysis unit. The first was $1 million pledge by the previous NDP government on November 28, 2012. In January 2016 it was referenced in the province’s 2016-17 Capital Plan.
Back in 2012, after the health executives finished applauding themselves and photographs were taken, it gradually dripped out that the new dialysis unit would take two years to open. The delay was because the health authority had to determine where to position the unit, commission designs, issue a construction tender and then have it built.
Two years might seem a reasonable time line if you don’t think about it. But given the behind-the-scene work that goes in to public funding announcements, why wasn’t that planning done first? Are we to believe that cabinet ministers jump out of bed and decide to give away millions of dollars without any background planning?
Assuming the initial announcement was pure political opportunity, the health authority committed themselves to a two-year timeline to build and open the dialysis unit. It didn’t. This is not the first dialysis unit ever built, so it doesn’t take forever to design or build it. There was a need in 2012 that hasn’t, isn’t and won’t be satisfied until 2019. Health care decided that seven years of patient suffering, sacrifice and travel expense was an acceptable time line.
The health executives also decided the cost increase is acceptable. In 2012, then Health Minister Dave Wilson told CBC radio host Don Connelly dialysis units cost $3 million to build and $500,000 to operate. Today’s announcement (January 13, 2017) is for $9.1 million. So, the inflationary increase for this seven-year delay is $6 million. Since we’re paying top dollar, why will it take 1.5 – 2 years to build? Cruise ships, which are fully functioning floating cities, are built in less time. Why can’t this be done faster? They’ve already had five years to plan.
One thing is sure: we’ll have a photo opportunity of over-dressed executives turning over a shovel of soil, another for a hard hat tour given to media and VIPs near project completion, and then the prerequisite ribbon-cutting photo. While I began this with the three ways the Dobbin patriarch enjoyed business, this dialysis unit will give health executives seven opportunities to celebrate without once having to actually help a patient.