Officials ducking details on health care reorganization

Silence reigns, with no plan in sight

By Robert Frank
with files from Kevin Woodhouse

With less than six weeks left before patients are slated to be shunted-off to other treatment facilities, Montreal’s health authority (ASSS Montreal) remains silent about the specifics.

Officials have avoided outlining details since The Suburban broke the story last month that the Parti québécois government wants Montreal hospitals to offload their patients to the surrounding regions.

Last Thursday, ASSS Montreal abruptly cancelled an interview with The Suburban to discuss how regionalization plan will be implemented. Health care officials initially wanted to stall until Feb. 20—the date the Quebec government will table a budget—to discuss details. They now say that they are prepared to do so Feb. 26—a date that many observers anticipate a provincial election will be called.

As described the accompanying report, distressed patients, who are currently being treated at the McGill University Health Centre and the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal, still don’t have the foggiest idea what will become of them. 

In the meantime, Health Minister Réjean Hébert ousted ASSS Montreal ceo Danielle McCann and parachuted in Patricia Gauthier to replace her. Gauthier’s previous job was as head of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Sherbrooke—in Hébert’s riding.

Budget trumps treatment

Meantime, Montreal hospitals are desperate to shed patients, because Quebec Health Minister Réjean Hébert has told them that he will be cutting their budgets to redistribute the funds to outlying regions, starting April 1.

“It’s not a clinical directive,” Hébert said in the Quebec legislature, Feb. 12. “It’s a budgetary directive.”

“Montreal hospitals have been told to expect to reduce their volume of patients,” he continued, “because those patients will be treated in Laval and the Montérégie.”

“Those budget cuts might stretch out over several years,” Hébert suggested. “We’re not talking about a sudden reduction.”

Hebert pledged to preserve Quebecers’ right to seek treatment anywhere they want. He acknowledged last week that to do otherwise would violate patients rights under the province’s health care act. However, the budget move will effectively render those rights irrelevant, as the province starves the urban hospitals of the funds that they need to continue delivering treatment.

“Offering regionalized service will deliver services close to their home,” Hébert said in a statement, in which he referred to “four historically underfunded regions: Montérégie, Lanaudière, the Laurentians and the Outaouais.”

New medicare card to include address?

Hébert has also issued a string of announcement promising to lavish taxpayer money on string of medical investments in the province’s outlying regions as well as a new medicare card policy. 

That splash of cash could turn into a tsunami when tomorrow’s provincial budget is tabled.

The minister justified the budget shift “out of concern for greater interregional equity and to improve care and services outside [Quebec’s] big cities.”

Health authorities have told The Suburban that dialysis treatment for kidney patients and surgery to remove cataracts from patients’ eyes is slated to shift elsewhere, April 1.

An internal presentation on the regionalization program obtained by The Suburban revealed that ASSS Montreal also wants to ship pregnant women needing obstetric care, patients slated for day surgery and stable chronic disease sufferers back to their home regions.

However, a regional health official told The Suburban that those changes have been postponed.
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