Almost one year after a government report exposed serious mismanagement issues at the McGill University Health Centre, the MUHC remains in the red, projecting a deficit of $20 million for 2013.

A special auditor’s report released on December 17th 2012 pointed to questionable real estate deals under former CEO Arthur Porter. It also cited a lack of accountability within the network and 600 thousand hours of unexplained and unjustified work for which the MUHC is on record as having paid. That same day, Quebec health minister Rejean Hebert appointed a special auditor to the MUHC, practically placing it under trusteeship.

Auditors projected a 115 million dollar shortfall for 2012, which was later reduced to $70 million due to emergency cost-cutting measures. The deficit for 2013 is actually $32 million. But the government has agreed to absorb $12 million. The network’s total accumulated deficit is $140 million dollars.

The hospital network will be holding its annual public meeting Tuesday afternoon to update the public on some critical issues, including the deficit and recent staff cuts. Earlier this year the MUHC was forced to cut 270 positions, including 40 nurses.

The health network’s current CEO, Normand Rinfret, spoke CTV about some of the challenges the MUHC faces over the next year. Rinfret partially blames the deficit on constant government cutbacks. Quebec has been slashing the network’s budget by about $10-12 million a year.

“What we see is we're functioning this year with 7.7 per cent less hours worked than we were a year ago.” Rinfret says. He insists the MUHC has been more efficient and, as such, patients haven’t been feeling the cuts. “We’ve found ways to save money without reducing our volumes. Our volumes have increased in emergency, in the O.R. and in I.C.U. We haven’t changed the services we offer."

As it stands, the MUHC is forecasting a balanced budget for 2014-15. But, Rinfret says, if the government keeps up with the cuts, the hospital network’s move the new super hospital site at the Glen Yards could become problematic. Rinfret did not go into specifics about what problems could arise.  

Patients’ rights advocates, meanwhile, are also warning the government to back off any further cuts. Paul Brunet, from the Conseil pour La Protection des Malades, says that although his organization hasn’t noticed a spike in complaints from patients being treated at the MUHC that can be linked to staff or budget cuts, the government risks putting added pressure on an already overburdened system.  

More and more we're not doing the job as a state, and it has nothing to do with the PQ or the Liberals. It has to do with the fact that the state is broken.” Brunet says.

Regardless of what happens with the operations budget, the new hospital will start receiving patients in 18 months. Brunet hopes by then, the hospital network will get its financial house in order. If it doesn’t, he says the MUHC should make the right choices when it comes to making cuts to its workforce.

“If you cut off the hands and the arms off the people delivering the mission… delivering the service, you’ll have a problem of efficiency inevitably because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.” Brunet says, “Unfortunately, traditionally, administrations have the wrong reflex of cutting the service… rather than the hands and the arms of the bureaucrats.”