No one knows what's happened to SNC-Lavalin Group Inc's $150-million contract from Ottawa for pandemic field hospitals.
The Department of Public Works signed the sole-sourced contract back in 2020.
“There is no fixed delivery date at the moment,” staff wrote in a memo dated Sept. 9 of that year.
No province or territory had asked to have these field hospitals by mid-October 2020, and results of the contact are still unknown.
“No formal request has been made by a province or territory to date as these units have been ordered in anticipation of a potential need by the Government of Canada for a broad range of situations,” said an Oct. 13 memo.
At that time, the department paid SNC-Lavalin more than $26 million of the $150-million contract for a total of five field hospitals.
According to the Globe and Mail, Ottawa allocated $300-million (nearly double what was initially planned) or the construction of 15 mobile hospitals, but only four 100-bed units were ever complete. Apparently, they are sitting in storage despite the strain on hospitals caused by Omicron across the country.
A similar multimillion-dollar contract was awarded to Weatherhaven Global Resources Ltd. for 10 field hospitals. Apparently, the company only delivered three units and none of them are currently in use, according to the office of federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
Since the contracts were awarded, SNC-PAE has received $71-million in payment from the federal government.
Lorne Wiesenfeld, a doctor at the Ottawa Hospital and vice-dean of graduate medical education at the University of Ottawa, has called for greater use of federal mobile units.
“The hospitals are very congested with many patients who are in with COVID,” Dr. Wiesenfeld said. ”This can create a situation where there is not enough hospital beds. It’s complicated as well because many wards have outbreaks of COVID so no new non-COVID patients can brought up to that ward.”
Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, added that spending $300-million on mobile hospitals wasn't a waste of money, noting that the pandemic should raise larger issues of government funding to address the long-term shortage of overall health care workers.
“We have to plan for worst-case scenarios,” Dr. Smart said. “But what we learned from this pandemic … is we have to understand that there is no health care without health care professionals and we need to see investments there.”