03/26/2013 02:13 EDT | Updated 05/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Nurses, patients join chorus slamming MUHC administration

Frustrated and worried health care workers at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) say only a radical reform of the way the teaching hospital is managed will salvage its reputation as an academic teaching hospital.

The chorus of criticism comes in the wake of an open letter published in the Montreal Gazette today, slamming the MUHC administration and blaming it for a range of problems, including an overburdened system and a major deficit.

The letter, signed by six prominent doctors and professors of medicine, says these problems, along with recent “scandals” involving former MUHC head Arthur Porter and the new superhospital will “continue to be felt for generations” unless significant changes are made.

The letter also criticizes the new superhospital project for its lack of teaching resources.

“Though the hospital is designated a university health centre, the educational/academic content of the new structures appears to be minimal. For example, teaching facilities may have to be rented in order to give lectures,” the letter states.

The six professionals say problems at the MUHC have left it at a low point in its history and have tarnished the name of McGill University.

Nurses' union adds its voice

None of the physicians who signed the letter was available for interviews today, however, there is no shortage of support for their position.

"We completely agree with them," said Line Larocque, president of the Syndicat des professionelles en soins infirmièrs et cardiorespiratoires, the union representing 3,500 nurses and other health care workers at the MUHC.

She said the administration has adopted a "top-down" approach in the last few months, as it tackles the issue of how to cut its spending by close to $60 million.

She says senior management is simply ignoring requests from to meet and talk about the options.

"There's no contact with...the people who work with the patients," Larocque said. "They are… coming to see us and saying, 'This is what we're doing.'"

Larocque said her members are proud of the hospital's reputation as a centre of excellence, but quality of care will likely suffer if nurses always have to think about the bottom line.

Larocque used the example of a chemotherapy patient who also needs a blood test and a dressing changed.

She said chemotherapy nurses have never had to ask, "Do I have the time to do it?"

"We were just doing it: That's it, that's all," Larocque said.

"Now we're going to probably have to look at it a different way. We're going to say, 'Okay, we're not budgeted for dressings for outpatients like this. We're going to have to send them to the CLSC.'"

"It's not good care for the patient."

Paul Brunet, the head of a provincial patients' rights group, said the key is remembering the hospital's raison d'être.

"The hospital should be [managed] with a… first mission, which is to serve and take care of patients," Brunet said.

'Break down old barriers,' doctors urge

In their open letter, the doctors suggest the MUHC take this opportunity to address shortfalls and find solutions that “renew our approach to governance” and “break down old barriers.”

"We're very concerned about the issues of trying to provide the right level of information, communication," said Ann Lynch, MUHC's associate director of clinical operations.

She gave the example of what is to happen to the MUHC's kidney dialysis patients once the superhospital opens. The MUHC's executive director, Normand Rinfret, said last December patients with less complicated conditions could be transferred to smaller hospitals elsewhere on the island of Montreal.

She said hospital management has met with the dialysis unit's multidisciplinary teams, patient representatives and regional health authorities to try to sort out patients' concerns.

"I think everyone knows that we're trying to work in the interest of our patients and our staff. But it is a complex process."