Investigate MUHC’s use of office building, opposition parties urge

«The auditor-general has to shed light on this,» Parti-Québécois health critic Sylvain Gaudreault says about edifice that has racked up losses.

«It’s a scandal,» says Quebec solidaire MNA Sol Zanetti. Peter McCabe / MONTREAL GAZETTE

The opposition Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire are calling on the provincial auditor-general to investigate possible improprieties in a commercial office building managed by the McGill University Health Centre.

Sylvain Gaudreault, the PQ’s health critic, said he has concerns about the MUHC’s use of a seven-storey building at 5100 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. following the Montreal Gazette’s publication on Monday and Tuesday of articles that revealed that the hospital network has run up millions of dollars in losses handling the property.

And Sol Zanetti, QS’s expert on health policy, accused the MUHC of pushing ahead with the privatization of medical services by off-loading some of its clinics to 5100 de Maisonneuve through private-for-profit entrepreneurs. The MUHC has chosen that approach as it seeks to offset rental losses.

The revelations concerning 5100 de Maisonneuve come as Accreditation Canada paid a previously scheduled visit this week to the MUHC, scrutinizing the hospital network under the leadership of chief executive officer Dr. Pierre Gfeller, who was appointed a year ago.

“It’s a scandal,” said Zanetti. “It’s not normal that the state must pay out more funds so that the services that are given to the population are carried out in private clinics, which are even in the same building” managed by the MUHC.

“This is something that is completely aberrant,” he added in an interview. “The fundamental problem here is the privatization of health care.”

Zanetti was alluding to the fact that MUHC-affiliated physicians can bill the medicare board 30 per cent more in a private clinic to cover their office expenses.

In April, seven gynecologists practicing at the MUHC superhospital opened an outpatient clinic on the sixth floor of 5100 de Maisonneuve. Previously, the gynecologists saw their patients at the superhospital.

The gynecologists do not charge patients, but bill the Régie de l’assurance-maladie du Québec. Still, patients in need of blood tests can get them done for a fee at private labs in the building or return to the hospital where all tests are covered under medicare.

MUHC neurologists also opened a clinic on the sixth floor of the building this spring. The off-loading of MUHC clinics started soon after the superhospital opened in 2015, when specialists at the Montreal Children’s Hospital opened a clinic on the second floor.

All three clinics are run by the private Brunswick Medical Group, which pays rent to the MUHC.

“For us, we should not try to make profits out of illness,” Zanetti continued. “This is completely unacceptable. We must investigate this.”

Gaudreault, of the PQ, found fault with the fact that the Royal Victoria Hospital Foundation — which is supposed to raise funds for research and medical equipment — purchased the office building for $40 million in 2006.

Since that acquisition, the MUHC has absorbed the property’s rental losses. Although MUHC officials say the cumulative deficit on the property is $4.1 million, the total tally might be millions more. In 2015, the press attaché to then-health minister Gaétan Barrette told a reporter the MUHC diverted funds from its operating budget to cover $5.3 million in losses.

Barrette also ordered the MUHC to unload the property as quickly as possible.

“The auditor-general has to shed light on this, launch an investigation into the MUHC and this saga, and then make recommendations,” Gaudreault told the Gazette.

“The funds raised by the foundation should have gone for the care of patients,” he added. “What’s more, the health minister in 2015, Mr. Barrette, issued an order (to sell the building) and we’re still waiting for corrective measures.”

Alexandre Lahaie, press attaché to Health Minister Danielle McCann, has been unavailable for comment since Tuesday.

MUHC officials note the building’s clinics don’t belong to the hospital network, even though they’re mostly staffed by MUHC doctors in a building run by the MUHC.

Mary McCutcheon, who underwent gynecological surgery at the MUHC in April, shared her observations about the private clinic.

What I noticed at the Brunswick is that there didn’t seem to be a hospital clinic nurse around whose practical advice had been very helpful previously,” McCutcheon wrote in an email.

“Before, in the Glen (superhospital), I had been impressed by the close teamwork between the different members of the hospital team, and that includes students, since it is a teaching hospital. It must be more difficult to maintain this link when they are in different locations. There is a shortage of obstetrician-gynecologists, it seems. I do not have private health insurance.”

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