More Mayor and Council Secrets: The School of Nursing /Fiasco.

If you are like me, you have been concerned for a long time that when the new hospital opens, there will be no home for the Western Regional School of Nursing (WRSON), which has been part of our community for decades.  

At Grenfell Campus, 221 students are enrolled in the nursing program – that’s about 20% of the student population. The School of Nursing is VERY important to our region – for the survival of Grenfell Campus and for the recruitment of nurses.

You were probably also wondering just where the idea of moving the Western Regional School of Nursing (WRSON) to the Civic Centre Annex came from last November.

Here are my questions:

How did that secret deal happen? 

Was it, as many suspect, the result of  secret discussions between the Mayor and the former CEO of Western Health? 

How were the Mayor and Council able to get to the point of signing an agreement, without anyone being aware of what was happening? 

What will happen to the School of Nursing when the new hospital opens?

What We Know:

When I was Mayor in 2017, I was told by the then Vice-President of Grenfell Campus that the pool was being considered as the new home of the Western Regional School of Nursing.  That made some sense: MUN needs to ask the provincial government for permission to build a new structure, but not to renovate an existing one.  So, as much as we didn’t like the fact that the Grenfell Pool was closed,  it at least made some sense that the pool space could become the new Nursing school.  With that, we started the process of working on a new pool that would meet the needs of the community.

In 2018, though, with a new Vice-President at Grenfell, a new Aquatics Centre project appeared on the horizon with plans to renovate the 46 year old pool.

Up until March 12 2020,  the plans were still being considered to house WRSON somewhere on Grenfell Campus. Consultants were engaged, 6 possible sites on campus were being considered, and then, suddenly, sometime between March and June 2020, everything shifted to the idea of the Nursing School being housed through a 20 year lease of the Annex of our Civic Centre.

Understandably, many were outraged.  I was too, and I wrote about it when it happened.  The Civic Centre is part of the legacy of the Canada Games.  People in this community worked hard to make those games happen.  It was wrong to ever entertain this idea.

Who Was Responsible?

When the story finally broke, the Mayor was front and centre, attempting to justify why moving WRSON into the Annex, a community financed and owned building, was a good idea. He argued that the Annex was under utilized, that there would be a “new” gym at the Aquatics Centre – i.e. Grenfell’s existing gym – and that we really didn’t need the space in the Annex. As the Mayor said in a December 03 , 2020 Saltwire news article “When you buy or build a new house you’ve got to sell the old one,” said Parsons. “You can’t afford to run both.” 

That is wrong on all counts.  

It’s not clear who was involved in the discussions.  An ATIPP request reveals very little specific information about who was involved.  The current Mayor has still not indicated how this idea came about, what his own involvement was, and who else was at the table initially.

The idea was a bad one, and the financing costs to the City, between the Nursing School and the commitments around the Aquatics Centre, are considerable.  

What Are My Commitments?

The Nursing School needs a home.  It can’t go into the old Grenfell pool space now. So a new site will be needed, and soon. That means the province will have to work with Grenfell,  Western Health, and WRSON to advance a plan for a new School of Nursing on Grenfell Campus, where it should be. 

Health Care is important to everyone. If elected, I will put forward a motion to create a new Hospital Committee of Council consisting of councillors and residents to work with Grenfell, Western Health, WRSON, and the provincial government to do two things: work with everyone to secure a space for the School of Nursing and also to work collaboratively with government, Western Health, our Health care Professionals and the business community to help recruit and retain health care professionals for Corner Brook. 

I was always told that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.  The same is true of our City.  We need to protect the precious resource that is our School of Nursing, and we need to be proactive and work with the province to ensure we have the doctors, nurses, and specialists that we need.

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