Montreal·Special Report

Left behind: 3 MUHC departments on benefits of not moving to the Glen

Being left behind can be a disappointment. But the heads of three departments at the MUHC that didn't move to the Glen site last year say it can also be a blessing in disguise.

'Spooky,' 'best of both worlds' describe what it's like in old hospitals after everyone else left

One of the perks of being left behind at the old Royal Victoria Hospital legacy site is no longer having to fight for a parking spot. (CBC)

Sometimes being left behind can be a disappointment.

But Dr. Julius Erdstein says it can also be a blessing in disguise.

His adolescent medicine department didn't move along with the rest of the Montreal Children's Hospital to new McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Glen site one year ago.

Instead, they stayed at the Gilman Pavilion on Atwater Avenue, across from the vacant Children's Hospital.

"It's the best of both worlds, and we consider ourselves lucky," Erdstein said, adding that it's great to have access to a shiny, state-of-the-art hospital – just not all the time.

"We live in a place over here in the adolescent clinic where we can create a community and where it's comfortable for the teens to go, and it's less intimidating," he said, adding it's great for team-building with doctors and nurses, as well.

Finding solutions

Staying put at the Gilman Pavilion means it's easier to confer with colleagues, says the head of the adolescent medicine department. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Last year's big move brought home the logistical challenges of being left behind for the head of the department, but Erdstein said he had to come up with concrete solutions.

The new hospital isn't far away, and doctors and nurses now work on a rotation, with one person taking on tasks at the Glen site for two weeks at a time.

The MUHC also coordinates video-conferencing for weekly morning rounds at the Children's Hospital, so personnel at the Gilman Pavilion can participate.

"It's not the ideal, but it is a solution that helps us be part of what's going on," Erdstein told CBC.

His ideal situation would have been to recreate the special atmosphere at the Gilman Pavilion closer to the Glen site, but not actually on the new hospital campus.

Erdstein even has a "fantasy" location – the abandoned Westmount railway station at the end of Victoria Avenue.

SPECIAL REPORT: Read the whole series on the MUHC move, one year later:

Closer, but not quite on site

You can see the MUHC superhospital from the windows at the McGill Academic Eye Centre located across the street. (CBC)

Those who work at the McGill Academy Eye Clinic are adjusting to living in the superhospital's shadow.

The doctors and staff at the eye clinic can see the Glen site from where they are located, on de Maisonneuve Boulevard, right next to Vendôme Metro station.

"It's a work in progress," said Dr. Leonard Levin, head of the MUHC's adult ophthalmology department.

His main issue is finding a way to improve the back-and-forth between the new clinic and the Montreal General Hospital, which still takes care of trauma cases.

"The last thing we want to do is burn out people," Levin said, adding that his doctors need to visit patients at both the Glen and the Montreal General two to six times a day.

The trade-off is a sparkling new facility, filled with state-of-the-art equipment and complete with a colour-coded waiting area designed especially for patients with sight problems.

Further complicating the transition, Levin and his team have to now see 20 per cent fewer patients, due to the MUHC's shift of focus to tertiary care.

Explaining to patients that they have to go elsewhere for their eye care isn't easy.

"It's a difficult message, someone you've had a long term relationship with and now you're saying, 'I'm sorry, we can't do it anymore' – it's a difficult thing," Levin said.

Spooky location

There's not much sign of life in the old Royal Victoria Hospital these days. (CBC)

The MUHC's reproductive centre is another department that didn't make the move to the Glen site, which had been billed as a one-stop shop for health care.

It's still on the sixth floor of the old Royal Victoria Hospital's Women's Pavilion.

The sadness at being left behind evaporated quickly among staff, according to the centre's director, Dr. William Buckett.  

"They're very happy in what is the new normal," he said, specifying that the fertility clinic will move in the next few months to an as-yet-unknown location.  

"It can look a little bit empty and a little bit spooky," Buckett admitted.

But he's looking on the bright side.

Film production crews crowd around the heritage building some days, and there are advantages to being the only clinical department left in the old hospital.

"For most people working here, [they see]: easy to park, you go in, and everything seems normal."

Staff at the MUHC Reproductive Centre worked tucked away on the sixth floor of the otherwise-vacant Royal Victoria Hospital building. (CBC)

About the Author

Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau.