Government delays on the CHUM superhospital are scandalous

If we are lucky, the new hospital will be built 18 years after it was proposed


First, the birth was due in 2006. Then it was 2010. Now, we learn the CHUM superhospital won't see the daylight before 2013, if we're lucky.
So here's the math: From the idea's genesis in 1995 to its possible completion, Montrealers, their health-care services and those who work in it, will have been kept on hold for 18 long years regarding their university hospitals.
What does one call that? A scandal? Sheer irresponsibility on public health? There's been a continuous lack of transparency as to why the hospital hasn't been built since the Parti Quebecois government first amalgamated the Hotel-Dieu, Notre-Dame and St. Luc hospitals into the CHUM - Centre hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal - in 1995.
The cost is sure to be higher than the estimated $2 billion for the CHUM and the McGill University Health Centre, and every delay adds to the price tag. But who's counting?
In 2000, without debating the merits of renovating existing hospitals, the Bouchard government announced the CHUM would be built at 6000 St. Denis St. In 2004, a commission created by the Liberal government switched it to the St. Luc hospital site.
Then the business lobby weighed in and wanted it built in Outremont. In 2005, after a National Assembly commission and the expenditure of tens of millions of tax dollars in various reports and committees, the Charest government finally picked the St. Luc site.
It all raises the question: Is there another major city in a Western country where an aging population in need of better services would tolerate such delays, government indecisiveness and unending battles with lobby groups that directly affect the quality of, and access to, health care in a university hospital setting?
In this 20-year-long saga, Montrealers will have had the worst of both worlds. They didn't get new hospitals; and the existing ones were left in uncertainty, having to invest in renovations or new departments, knowing they'll be abandoned one day.
That's called health-care limbo. Need I add while waiting for these new hospitals, 29 per cent of Quebecers - including this columnist - didn't have access to a family doctor while private health-care services kept expanding, creating more inequalities in the system?
There's also a code of silence that seems to unite the Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois on the superhospitals. The PQ bears the cross of having launched this saga without any real plan, and the Liberals for its non-completion. How does one spell "procrastination"?
Yesterday, it was mind-boggling to hear the health minister and the treasury board president. Facing complaints that nothing gets built, Monique Jerome-Forget said: "I associate this with a male attitude. They want to see something moving right away." Right away? Eleven years after 1995 and seven years away from anything? Who is she kidding?
Philippe Couillard called it the hard-hat syndrome or an obsession to see the hospitals built - imagine the gall! What followed was even more mesmerizing.
About setting a deadline, he called 2013 an "indicator," adding, "It's not up to the politicians to do that. That's something we have to change. It's up to those whose job it is. I'm not a construction manager."
Well, excuse us for thinking that the completion of a public hospital is actually the responsibility of the health minister and of the government. Excuse us for thinking that being an elected representative and a member of the cabinet makes the health minister responsible, not the construction managers.
If this wasn't such a vital issue for the health of Montrealers, present and future, the whole saga would be simply embarrassing, or fodder for stand-up comics.
But it's too important a question for two successive governments to have chosen procrastination over a clear, informed choice and action: Either revamp the existing hospitals or build two, perhaps even one, integrated superhospital.
In 2006, Montrealers still have neither.
So, does anyone know a really good construction manager?

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