Barrette, health officials to meet Wednesday to consider MUHC merger proposal


Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette is to hold an extraordinary meeting Wednesday evening at McGill University to consider a major proposal to merge the MUHC with two west-end health organizations, the Montreal Gazette has learned.

The meeting will amount to a semi-public consultation — organized on short notice — with a select group of journalists invited, three highly-placed sources said.

David Eidelman, McGill’s dean of medicine, will be in attendance, along with the boards of directors of the MUHC as well as the West-Central Montreal CIUSSS and the West Island CIUSSS, the French acronym for the merged health authorities created under Barrette’s administrative reforms last year.

Representatives of the 20 foundations from across the MUHC and the two health authorities have also been invited to the 7 p.m. meeting, which Barrette’s office intended to announce Wednesday morning, the sources said. Patient-rights groups have not been invited, added the sources, who spoke to the Gazette on condition that their names not be published because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of West-Central Montreal Health, is to give a presentation at the meeting to merge his CIUSSS with the MUHC, along with the West Island CIUSSS, and that he would lead all three organizations, the sources said.

Rosenberg had already given a presentation to a search committee last summer that was formed to recommend a successor to Normand Rinfret, who retired as executive director of the MUHC on Sept. 2. Rosenberg’s vision is to unite all McGill-affiliated health and social-services institutions under one organization to provide a better continuity of care.

However, members of the Jewish community as well as the Jewish General Hospital — which is now overseen by West-Central Montreal Health — demanded to be consulted. MUHC officials also expressed a strong desire to be heard.

Benoit Morin, head of the West Island CIUSSS, will share his vision to lead the MUHC, the sources said. Under Morin’s proposal, the West Island CIUSSS would be integrated into the MUHC, which itself is the result of a merger of hospitals in the late 1990s.

Martine Alfonso, the interim head of the MUHC, will outline her organization’s view. Alfonso’s position is that the merger process is unfolding “way too fast … and there’s hesitation from more than one party over how this is rolling out,” a source said.

Claudio Bussandri, chairman of the MUHC board, has preferred a consultation of up to six months, but Barrette wants a final decision to be made within weeks, the sources noted. Barrette has indicated to the MUHC that he’s in favour of a merger, and has made similar pronouncements to the media since the Gazette broke the story on Sept. 1.

Ian Popple, an MUHC spokesperson, declined to confirm or deny Alfonso’s and Bussandri’s positions. Julie White, Barrette’s press attaché, said the health minister is not for one option or the other. “As he has already said publicly if there is a willingness on the part of the community for a merger, we are open to it, but he will not impose it.”

The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting is for Mr. Morin and Mr. Rosenberg to “express their visions” and the gathering will constitute a first step in a dialogue, White added.

Among the concerns that have been raised is whether a double or triple merger would lead to more job cuts. Under Barrette’s streamlining reforms — known as Bill 10 — more than 1,300 managerial positions were abolished across the province as hospitals and other institutions merged.

Barrette has said he’s open to a double or a triple merger. Sources said that another possibility is a better coordination of health institutions that would fall short of an official merger.

“To what degree would linking these institutions improve care for patients when they go home?” asked a source.

The issue of better coordination between hospitals arose after the death of a celebrated Canadian filmmaker, Mark Blandford, last year. Blandford was denied emergency surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital, overseen by the West Island CIUSSS. He was instead transferred by ambulance in afternoon traffic five kilometres away to the MUHC superhospital in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, but died before he could undergo surgery to repair a burst abdominal aneurysm.

Blandford was sent to the MUHC despite the fact that the Jewish General is three blocks away. In the aftermath of Blandford’s death, Rosenberg told journalists that the Jewish General would have been in a position to have operated on Blandford should he have been transferred to the Côte-des-Neiges hospital.

It’s not clear why Barrette has decided to hold Wednesday’s meeting on short notice. The minister has tended to invite journalists on the same day of his news conferences after union protesters disrupted some of his public announcements.