By James Shea and Geoffrey Chambers
The English-speaking community is being challenged to ensure that during decades to come, our McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is provided with all the tools it needs to flourish. This applies equally to the front-line network of institutions through which most of our patient care is delivered. In many ways, we already have first-class institutions. We must act now to ensure they have a first-class future.
Our first move should not be to vilify a Quebec cabinet member who quite justifiably is calling on community leadership to address and solve the MUHC’s obvious problems. Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette is grappling “to make sure that the MUHC is stabilized.” He is understandably cautious about funding a profoundly dysfunctional system in the absence of a plan for corrective action.
The era of MUHC business as usual must be declared over. The forces of the MUHC status quo refuse to acknowledge this. Instead, they are trying to set Barrette up as the villain, the core cause of the problem. Let’s be blunt. Within the MUHC and across Quebec, English healthcare isn’t working to its full potential. The MUHC is afflicted with morale, managerial and other chronic issues. Holdovers from the Dr. Arthur Porter era have utterly failed to build the case for what we have long needed — a well-thought-through organizational redesign that is patient-centred. To accomplish the turnaround in governance and accountability that the MUHC so sorely needs, we require active engagement.
Whining is pointless. The Quebec Community Groups Network wants a productive debate and positive results on this and a variety of issues such as history curriculum, government services in English, bilingual signs, electoral map changes… the list is long. The way to achieve such progress is through evidence-based arguments, hard-nosed, fair-minded bargaining and a viable plan.
In health care, we need a system that doesn’t regularly drop the ball or needlessly escalate levels of care. One that doesn’t rule out the most promising option for oncology treatment because of the postal code of that patient’s home.
Most patients who have been through our system readily attest to the first-class care show by overburdened staff. Their best efforts are constantly being tripped up by infuriating systemic problems including organizational inefficiency, duplication, bureaucratic turf wars and lack of communication. These defects are only partly rooted in the unfortunate era embodied by the now-disgraced Porter. We shouldn’t be slapping the minister of health around to avoid tackling Porter’s thorny internal-management legacy head-on.
The MUHC needs an integrated, patient-centred approach that fosters continuity of care. Leading healthcare systems are taking full advantage of available technology, techniques and tactics. Ours is most definitely not.
A modern system prevents or minimizes hospital stays. It delivers appropriate services as close to the front lines as possible. It allows and motivates staff to do better what they do best. It heals, not hinders. It encourages, not impedes. It also saves taxpayer dollars. Instead, the MUHC status quo argues that coordination with the rest of the network is an imposition. They are way off base, taking the outdated, self-centred approach that hospitals are the centre of the network. The MUHC leadership needs to get its act together and accept that it must work with our other institutions.
The MUHC is an institution that literally for each of us—not just in the Montreal region but for the English-speaking community across the province—may well one day mean the difference between our life and our death.
So let’s get on with the job. We can and must do better, for all in the system now and for all our generations to come.
James Shea is president and Geoffrey Chambers is vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which brings together 53 English-language community organizations across Quebec.