Quebec to cut neonatal specialists at new superhospital from 14 to 11

After months of negotiations between MUHC administrators and the Quebec government, it has been decided that the new superhospital’s neonatal intensive care unit will be staffed with 11 specialists — short of the 14 the MUHC was pushing for.

Little wiggle room for negotiations on staffing at MUHC’s neonatal ICU

The neonatal ICU at the new MUHC superhospital will have 52 beds. (CBC Archives)

After months of negotiations between MUHC administrators and the Quebec government, it has been decided that the new superhospital's neonatal intensive care unit will be staffed with 11 specialists  short of the 14 the MUHC was pushing for.

During negotiations, the MUHC argued that 14 specialists were needed for 24/7 coverage once the Royal Victoria and Montreal Children's hospitals move to the Glen site and merge their total 52 neonatal beds.

Meanwhile, the government was ordering the MUHC to reduce its neonatal specialists to 10 by 2020.

Care concerns

The neonatal ICU looks after the sickest, most vulnerable babies. Some are born prematurely or with severe health problems and require specialized care for weeks, if not months.

Both the MUHC's chief of obstetrics and the head of the neonatal ICU told CBC earlier this month it was unrealistic to have any fewer than 14 specialists.

"It can lead to extreme fatigue and even burnout in the worst case scenario," said Dr. Robert Gagnon, the MUHC's director of obstetrics.

When asked to justify the reduction in specialists, the health minister said the MUHC itself agreed to those numbers when the agreement was signed to build the superhospital seven or eight years ago.

"It is very, very weird to me to hear from that hospital, that today, they would like to see something different than what they signed," says Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.

"When you put your name on a contract, it's binding. They are binded and that's the way it is — and it will not change."

A spokesperson for the health ministry told CBC it is confident the care and safety of the babies in the ICU can be adequately covered with 11 doctors.

The ministry said it doesn't anticipate a spike in babies with complications and if the beds are full at the Glen site, there are other hospitals such as Ste-Justine that could take them.

The government also said 14 specialists was not realistic for the space and operating rooms available at the new Glen site.

Pointing fingers

The health minister also did some finger-pointing.

He said if doctors are complaining about staffing, they can ask the MUHC's own director general and CEO Normand Rinfret for answers.

"If you have any questions on what has been designed and signed, ask Normand Rinfret and ask him to take his own responsibility. He put his name on that, and what has been done has been done by what has been agreed upon seven years ago," Barrette said today outside of caucus in Quebec City.

CBC could not confirm independently that Rinfret signed that document.

The MUHC would not comment on the staffing numbers today — other than to confirm they will need to reduce the number of specialists in the neonatal ICU to 11 by 2020.


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