Monday, March 9, 2009

MUHC Superhospital in Deep Trouble

Though nobody over at McGill is ready to admit it, the English super-hospital project, to be located at the Glen Yards is in deep trouble.

Both projects, the MUHC (McGill University Health Centre) and the CHUM (Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal ) are supposed to be financed by the private sector with leaseback agreements. This arrangement is already falling apart for both projects. The private lenders who were lined up before the current financial crisis are balking at undertaking the projects without additional financial guarantees by the government. If that's the case the government doesn't need to involve private enterprise at all and can build and finance the projects itself, thus avoiding the go-between. The government has committed to go the private route but now with the private sector demanding guarantees, it could be a convenient way out and an opportunity rethink both projects.

The need for these super-hospitals is questionable, especially on the English side.
While McGill University does want a super-hospital, it is clearly unneeded and an extravagance that we can't afford either financially or socially.
We have quite enough anglophone hospitals, in fact more than we need, thank you very much.

Without getting overly emotional, let's review some facts. The island of Montreal has at least five important anglophone hospitals and as well as bunch of smaller institutions. The Montreal General, The Royal Victoria, the Jewish General Hospital, The Children's and Lakeshore General are more than enough to serve the needs of the anglophone community. When I say more than enough, I mean MORE than enough.

Let’s look at just one Anglophone hospital, who’s story serves to explain the reality in all our anglophone hospitals.
The Jewish General Hospital was built back in the thirties to assure Jewish doctors and patients fair access to the health system. Through the generosity of the Jewish community, the hospital has grown into a monster and continues to expand every year. Recently the spanking new Segal Cancer Centre was added and today the radiation-oncology department is reinventing itself down in the basement. The front entrance to the hospital is presently undergoing a massive and expensive renovation. When all these projects are completed, the Jewish community will build more.
Good for them, good for everyone.
The hospital of course, serves more than the Jewish community, everyone regardless of colour, faith or language is welcomed. In fact, it is an imperative that the hospital serve more than the Jewish community,(not only because it is obliged to by law), but because it is far, far too big for the Jewish community itself, who ironically lost 30% of their number over the last 40 years.
In fact, the hospital is so big, it needs to reach out past the anglophone community and past the allophone communities, into the Francophone community to fill it's beds and that doesn't make sense.
The hospital runs bilingually of course, but let's be realistic, the common language is English. Patient care is primarily offered in English and records are kept in English as well. Of course the hospital offers services in French, but let's call a spade, a spade.
Treating anglophone (and even allophone) patients in an English hospital makes sense.
Treating Francophone patients in an English institution does not.

The same truth goes for every other English hospital on the island.


There, I've said. It feels good to get the unpleasant truth out.

It's quite simple. If we really wish to preserve these institutions as English, we need to pull back, not expand.

So how should we go forward?
Well, we need a plan that not only makes sense for our anglophone community but for the Francophone community as well and we need only one plan, not two.
We need a plan that allows English hospitals to evolve, modernize and thrive, but a plan that realistically tailors the size of the institutions to the size of the community. We need to work hand in hand with Francophone neighbors to realize a socially acceptable compromise.

So what should we do?
Here's my two cents. Now hold your breath.
  • The English super hospital should be scrapped.
  • The Royal Victoria hospital should be converted to a long-term care facility, for both English and French patients. The hospital can be easily recycled and it's new role will serve to free up hospital beds, citywide. By dedicating itself to just long-term care it can regain it’s status as a premiere institution and we can preserve an important part of our collective heritage.
  • The Montreal General Hospital should become the anglophone super-hospital. Already slated for expansion it can take over some of the load from the Royal Victoria. Expanding and modernizing it will cost a fraction of what a new super-hospital would.
  • Ultimately, the Children's hospital should be slimmed down and absorbed by the General, or better still, attached to the Jewish General Hospital,(given the Jewish community’s generosity and penchant for putting up buildings), enabling the institution to survive by sharing expensive diagnostic equipment and infrastructure.
Of course all this will mean less capacity, but that is probably a good thing. The new French super-hospital can recover the Francophone patients now served by English hospitals and the English institutions can return to a familiar role of serving it's own community.
Where should the French super-hospital be built?
On the Glen yards property, that's where. McGill management chose very well when they secured this jewel of a property.
It's wonderfully located with direct metro and bus access. It can become a fantastic campus for the Université de Montréal which is not that far away. The Shriner's Hospital which operates independently can share the property.
Within this scenario, the new French super-hospital (CHUM) makes more sense.

Instead of blowing two or three billion dollars on an unneeded English super-hospital, perhaps the government can commit to modernizing those English hospitals that remain, so that we can concentrate on quality care and not quantity.

I know many of you who are reading this are shaking your head in disbelief and perhaps my plan is not workable.
But the one thing that I am certain of, is that we need a new plan, so let’s get talking.


  1. I had the same opinion about hospitals that already exist. But no francophone hospital in NDG, because there is only a few nice english places left, ndg less and less english, if this were to happen Ndg as an english community would greatly suffer.

    But this is montreal why should things be done properly; is is our government and Mr mayor we have, right?

  2. What are you people smoking?!

    We need to move past the language issues and build what is needed to serve all citizens. Renovating is extremely expensive. More so than building new and state of the art facilities.

    1. This comment gets to the point. The MUHC is not an "anglophone hospital". It has officially designated bilingual status by the government. Care is provide in the language of choice...including support for an additional 50 languages. These new hospitals are the for people of Quebec, irrespective of language....and YES, they ARE needed.

  3. Language should not be a barrier at any hospital and it should be about quality of care so whether a hospital is French or English should not matter. All that should matter is quality of care & unfortunately in the French hospitals there is discrimination against the English, when again the focus should be on patient care. I am a healthcare professional so I unfortunately see this on a rather consistent basis. You are obviously biased and pro-French which is why u would write such a ridiculous article.