MUHC board resignations leave '1st-class institution' facing leadership void

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's top-down management style is coming under scrutiny question following the resignation of 10 out of 19 board members at the McGill University Health Centre.

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette criticized for handling of McGill University Health Centre

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette, right, is seen here touring the MUHC's new Glenn site in 2014, alongside then-director Normand Rinfret. Barrette is facing criticism after 10 of 19 MUHC board members resigned Monday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette's top-down management style is coming under scrutiny following the resignation of more than half the board members at the McGill University Health Centre.

Paul Brunet, a leading advocate for patients' rights, said the resignation of 10 independent board members, announced Tuesday, reflects the often counterproductive approach Barrette takes with health care institutions.

"He's the boss, and he wants to show everyone that he is," said Brunet, spokesperson for the Council for the Protection of Patients.

The resignations leave the MUHC, a major Montreal teaching hospital network with a budget of $850 million, with a gaping leadership void, without a board chair and with only nine remaining members, as well as an interim president and executive director, Martine Alfonso.

Normand Rinfret, who stepped down as the MUHC president and executive director last September, has yet to be replaced.

MUHC still providing top-level care: Barrette 

Board members complained that Barrette had, in recent months, ignored requests for meetings and failed to return correspondence.

He also failed to share reports on the MUHC commissioned by the Health Ministry, one of which recommended putting the institution in trusteeship, before eventually making them public.

Under Bill 10, legislation passed by the Couillard government, Barrette will be able to replace the board members with appointees of his own — a prospect that will appeal to the health minister, Brunet said.

The MUHC has an operating budget of about $850 million. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Brunet said Barrette's approach is "not isolated to the McGill hospital."

"It is very sad, because we're losing some great competency," he said of the resigning board members.

For his part, Barrette told CBC Montreal's Daybreak the resignations were "not something that I was looking for, but we have to turn the page."

"The MUHC, as we speak today, is and will remain a world-class hospital providing absolutely top-level care, and that hasn't changed today," he said Wednesday. 

Barrette maintained, however, that the MUHC's finances need to be put back in order. The institution faced a $115-million deficit in 2012-2013 and has "never got back to where it should be," he said. 

Deficits and disagreements

Glenn Rourke, one of the board members who resigned, disputed Barrette's claim that the MUHC had been subject to chronic deficits.

"We had a balanced budget in 2014, and there was disagreement after the move to the Glen site," he said, referring to disputes over funding since the move to the new superhospital.

In Rourke's view, the biggest factor leading to the resignations was the health minister's silent treatment. 

"We didn't get answers back when we made calls, emails or letters to his office," he said. 

"It's critical for the MUHC, which is a billion-dollar organization. We've got to have really close working relationships with the ministry and the minister, and we felt in the past months that it had broken down."

Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president for the Quebec Community Groups Network, says he's hopeful the resignations can eventually lead to improved co-operation at the MUHC. (CBC)

Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, a leading voice in the anglophone community, said he's hopeful the resignations can eventually bring a resolution to the "crisis" of funding and morale at the MUHC. 

"It's a really big deal to have this first-class institution in the community, and it's got to run well," he said.

"Three years ago, four years ago, the MUHC wouldn't have been singled out as having a problem with the provincial government. Everybody had a problem with the provincial government."

"One by one, they found a way of having a dialogue with the government and sorting it out."

with files from Ryan Hicks and CBC Montreal's Daybreak


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