It appears the McGill University Health Centre will lose its jurisdiction over the Lachine hospital because the Parti Quebecois government is concerned about the language used by those running the institution.

CTV has obtained a copy of a letter from Quebec's Health Minister Rejean Hebert, and in that letter the minister wrote that Lachine Hospital, a francophone institution, could see its management transferred to a community health network.

That letter, dated Dec. 20, 2012, was sent to the Montreal Health and Social Services Agency and copied to the CSSS Dorval-Lachine-Lasalle and to a member of the MUHC board of directors.

Hebert wrote "in an analysis of solutions that can be contemplated, he accords a particular importance to the fact that this institution must be re-integrated into a local network of the French language and that it pursue its historical vocation."

Lachine Hospital was recently criticized for a plan to reduce the number of beds in its long-term care facility, but that had nothing to do with Hebert's decision.

Danielle McCann of the Montreal Health Agency said this decision is based entirely on language, and has nothing to do with quality of care.

"It's about how we organize our services for the population and language is part of it," said McCann.

However she said she can understand some justification for the decision.

"When you have the first-line service, the long-term facilities, it's a good idea to have the acute care also for the same population, and language is part of that too," said McCann.

She did point out that there have not been any language complaints at Lachine Hospital, and said that patients are always cared for in the language of their choice, regardless of the language used by senior-level management and internal documentation.

The discussion about transferring control comes as the MUHC is dealing with what spokesperson Ian Popple categorized as a $29 million deficit, in part because of budget cuts from the provincial government, 800,000 hours in unauthorized extra work over the past three years, and allegations of nearly $2 million in fraud by former employees.

The MUHC said it was caught completely off-guard by the minister's decision, especially since the previous Liberal government had transferred control of Lachine Hospital out of the hands of the local CSSS.

Dr. Paul Saba represents the hospital's council of Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, and he says they strongly opposed the change because of the hospital's past history under the control of the CSSS.

"They did everything they could to take all of our resources including our staff, our financial resources, and to transform us into a clinic and we see no reason they wouldn't try to do that again," said Dr. Saba.

Saba said that while Lachine is a francophone hospital, it has effectively maintained its services in the French language while under the aegis of the MUHC.

The health minister's press attache told CTV's Tania Krywiak late Wednesday night that the objective of the letter was to give the health and social services agency a mandate to start discussions with the MUHC and the CSSS about whether the transfer of control is a good idea.

Meanwhile Saba said the Council of Physicians would like the hospital to get more local autonomy.

In the late afternoon, Lachine borough mayor Claude Dauphin expressed opposition to the proposal and reportedly threatened to mobilize citizen protests against the adoption of the plan.

Quebec Health Minister Rejean Hebert said Thursday that the hospital is not a natural fit with the MUHC.

"The Lachine Hospital has never been a priority and never will be a priority of the McGill University Health Centre," he said.

That assertion was hotly contested but MUHC officials, including Renzo Cecere of the MUHC Council of Physicians. 

"Patients will suffer from this," said Cecere.