Health Minister Gaetan Barrette emphatically denied rumours of any merger involving the McGill University Health Centre’s administration – unless, that is, there is demand for one from a staff that is proving hostile to the idea.

“There will be no merger unless it comes from the community itself,” said Barrette. “Something like that, if it has to happen, it would happen from the bottom up. I can guarantee neither the government or myself in the near future will impose this, even in the far future.”

A merger between the administration of the MUHC and the West Island and West Central health boards was first proposed in the fall.

Barrette was in Westmount to meet with the Montreal Liberal Riding Association, relatively friendly ground for the minister. Outside, however, protesters were leery that despite his assurance, a merger could be in the cards. A report released on Wednesday showed there was “almost no interest” in a merger among MUHC staff.

“Mergers are leading to budget cuts,” said nursing and cardiorespiratory professionals union head Denyse Joseph. “We cut staff, we cut services to the population. There’s nothing good in a merger for the patients.”

Even without the merger talk, Barrette’s relationship with the MUHC has become frayed due to $120 million in budget cuts over five years. Those cuts have taken their toll on staff, especially with hundreds of jobs at the superhospital going unfilled.

“I’ve never seen the mood so bad,” she said. “We have a major increase in staff going off on sick leave and it’s always long-term sick leave. It’s about mental health.”

For his part, Barrette said he doesn’t believe the MUHC is underfunded, saying the hospital received more money per bed than CHUM. He added that he's constantly monitoring how the centre is managed. 

The Glen superhospital has been without a CEO for months and in October, Barrette suspended the search for one, pending a decision on the merger.