With MUHC in turmoil, Gaétan Barrette reaches out to stakeholders

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette embarked on a charm offensive on Thursday, meeting with union leaders and a patients' committee to hear their concerns about the long list of problems facing Quebec's largest hospital.

Meetings with unions, patients' group follows resignation of 10 MUHC board members earlier this week

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette met with stakeholders on Thursday following the resignation of MUHC board members. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette embarked on a charm offensive on Thursday, meeting with union leaders and a patients' committee to hear their concerns about the long list of problems facing Quebec's largest hospital.

The meetings were called after more than half of the McGill University Health Centre board resigned in protest earlier this week. The 10 independent board members who quit complained that Barrette had been neglecting their concerns for months.

On Thursday, however, the health minister spent hours with stakeholders at his Montreal office.

He was receptive to the idea of appointing three labour representatives to the revamped MUHC board, according to the union leaders who met with him. 

"We represent nearly 10,000 employees, and there should be a permanent representation for these employees. I felt there could be an opening," said Manuel Fernandes, a representative for the CSN labour federation.

"If he's genuinely serious about real change, then let's start with the board."

Finding replacements for the board is one of a long list of problems confronting Barrette. The hospital has also been without a permanent CEO for nearly a year, and the health minister has taken heat for budget shortfalls, longer wait times and stressed-out staff.

Turmoil takes its toll on patients: advocate

Barrette also met with Pierre Hurteau of the MUHC Patients' Committee, who said he was pleased with the discussion.

"We saw a very receptive minister, someone who sat down with us and heard what we had to say about patient care," said Hurteau, who had been trying to meet Barrette since May.

All 10 independent members of the MUHC's board abruptly resigned earlier this week, citing the minister's failure to act on their proposals - or even acknowledge them. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
Hurteau wants Barrette to name replacements to the board quickly and find a "patient-centric" CEO to lead the MUHC. He said the lack of administrative leadership has taken its toll on patients.

​"There are long delays for surgery, getting a consultation with specialists, wheelchair accessibility to washrooms, things like that," he said. 

Strained relationships

Despite the conciliatory nature of today's meetings, the head of the nurses union, Denyse Joseph, said more work remains to be done to mend the strained relationship between Barrette and the hospital.

"The government and the MUHC leadership are not on the same page, and right now nothing is going to change," Joseph said.

"His goal was to talk about the budgetary situation of the MUHC, for us to understand where he stands compared to where the institution stands." 

In a statement issued after the meeting, three other unions representing MUHC employees said the meeting did little to persuade them of Barrette's good faith.

The FIQ, CSN and APTS used the meeting to request that a representative of each union be given a seat on the hospital's board of directors. 

Denyse Joseph (right), head of the nurses union, and Manuel Fernandes, a representative for the CSN labour federation, speak to reporters Thursday. (CBC)
Barrette did not comment following the meeting with union leaders.  His spokesperson, Julie White, said it was part of a series of engagements in recent weeks with MUHC stakeholders — and not "an emergency meeting."

A recent report commissioned by the Health Ministry recommended the hospital's administration be placed under trusteeship, but union leaders said the prospect wasn't brought up during their discussion.

"There was no talk of trusteeship nor did we feel that was an option. He's waiting for the new board to nominate the new CEO," Fernandes said.

With files from Ryan Hicks


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