01/10/2013 02:45 EST | Updated 03/12/2013 05:12 EDT

Borough mayor outraged by threat of change to Lachine Hospital

The borough mayor of Lachine is demanding a meeting with Quebec's health minister, to protest against a plan to take Lachine Hospital out of the McGill University Health Centre and transfer it back into the fold of the local community health network.

Health Minister Réjean Hébert said Thursday afternoon a final decision had not been made to remove the West Island hospital from the jurisdiction of the MUHC.

However, Danielle McCann, the president and director-general of Montreal Health and Social Services Agency, announced earlier in the day that the hospital would indeed be reintegrated into the Centre de santé et services sociaux Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle over the course of the next year.

'A nightmare,' says Lachine's mayor

Lachine Mayor Claude Dauphin called that news "a nightmare" and a "huge step backward," saying it comes completely out of left field.

"No elected official [was] consulted," Dauphin said. "I was not consulted. Our MNA was not consulted. [Those] elected, sitting on the CSSS, were not even consulted."

He said the Lachine Hospital's affiliation with the MUHC over the past five years has been beneficial to the community, and no one wants to see the hospital revert back to the local CSSS.

"We don't want to play in that movie anymore, because we played it six years ago," Dauphin said, referring to a threat by the CSSS to close the hospital in 2007. That spurred noisy protests in Lachine and resulted in the MUHC's offer to bring the hospital into its teaching network.

Dauphin took particular issue with the suggestion — confirmed by McCann — that language was a factor in the decision.

McCann said that Lachine Hospital has traditionally been a French-language hospital, despite entering into a partnership in 2008 with the MUHC, thus becoming part of McGill University's bilingual network of teaching hospitals.

Dauphin said the hospital has a special liaison committee in place to ensure French-language services were maintained at the bilingual institution.

"We're not talking about potholes...We're talking about health!" Dauphin exclaimed. "If someone is sick, we have to give service in their own language."

Health Minister Hébert denied preserving the century-old hospital's French-language roots was his main reason for wanting to see the institution revert to the CSSS's control.

"It's an issue," Hébert said on Thursday. "It's a concern, but it's not the primary motivation."

Streamlining patient services

McCann said the main intent of the administrative transfer is to streamline patient services in the West Island.

The local CSSS will now have the emergency room at the Lachine Hospital at its disposal.

She said patients need to have front line services in close proximity.

McCann said English-speaking patients will continue to have access to services in their language of choice.

Beds will stay

Yesterday, a doctor at the Lachine Hospital voiced concern over another memo circulating earlier this week, informing staff that 20 per cent of the hospital's 50 beds would be closed.

Dr. Paul Saba said the loss of the beds would create a backlog in patient care.

"Patients are forced to stay in the emergency room. We have no capacity to take new patients, and we actually had to stop the ambulances from coming," he said.

Health Minister Hébert criticized that decision by the MUHC, saying that coming as it does during an outbreak of influenza, the decision to close 10 beds is "questionable."

McCann said today that the beds would not be closed for the time being.

Financial troubles

The MUHC has been in the headlines in recent weeks because of its financial struggles.

A report commissioned by Quebec's Health Minister revealed in December that the MUHC had been downplaying its financial difficulties. The report showed MUHC's deficit for 2012-13 could hit $115 million.

McCann said the indebted MUHC network will continue to incur costs from the Lachine Hospital, as the jurisdictional transfer will take at least a year, but she could not provide a specific dollar figure.