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Protesters continue fight to save Hôtel-Dieu

Employees, community members speak out against restructuring of Montreal hospitals

On May 16, about 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal hospital to protest the closure of the institution. The crowd consisted of hospital employees, residents of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, and politicians – including Amir Khadir, the Québec solidaire representative for Mercier at the National Assembly of Quebec, and Louise Harel, the former leader of the municipal political party Vision Montréal.

Union representatives from the Syndicat des Employé(e)s du Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (SECHUM) and the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) were also present. Both unions represent workers who would be affected by the hospital’s closure.

Activists have been fighting to keep the Hôtel-Dieu open since the administration council of the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM) – a healthcare network to which the Hôtel-Dieu belongs – adopted a resolution to sell the building in March 2013. Although the decision to close the hospital has already been announced and public consultations regarding the future of the site have already been held, protesters claimed that the consultations were not sufficient, and that the city will suffer if the Hôtel-Dieu closes.

SECHUM president Claude Talbot said that with the closure of the Hôtel-Dieu, the remaining emergency hospital services will be insufficient to satisfy the demand.

“They won’t be able to take care of the whole population,” he told The Daily in French. “That’s the raison d’être for the Hôtel-Dieu to stay open. […] But the population is getting older, and we need healthcare. We have to keep an establishment like the Hôtel-Dieu open to take care of the population.”

The planned closure of the Hôtel-Dieu is closely linked to the construction of the new CHUM, which will consolidate the three hospitals of the network – Saint-Luc, Notre-Dame, and Hôtel-Dieu – into a single facility. The new hospital, to be located at the intersection of René-Levesque and St. Denis, is scheduled to open in 2016.

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) – the McGill-affiliated anglophone healthcare network – is undergoing a similar consolidation, with its six hospitals being condensed into one super-hospital, currently under construction and slated to open in 2015, and two satellite hospitals. The controversial transformation has prompted concerns about accessibility and sufficient availability of services. At the rally, several speakers highlighted the necessity for unity between francophones and anglophones in fighting against hospital closures.

“We’re in a neighbourhood that’s slightly more anglophone, and francophones want to continue with the struggle [to keep the hospital open],” said Talbot. “And anglophones are participating, too. So it’s a union that means that the hospital will stay open.”

The Comité logement du Plateau Mont-Royal – a community group dedicated to the defense of tenants’ rights – was also at the rally, and several speakers expressed concerns about the possible conversion of the hospital into condominiums following its closure.

One attendee conjectured that even if the Hôtel-Dieu were to remain open, parts of the hospital would nonetheless be shut down following the consolidation of CHUM. Advocates at the rally called for those parts of the hospital to be converted into social housing.

One speaker, dressed up as the hospital’s founder, Jeanne Mance, reflected the overarching sentiment at the protest that the hospital holds deep historical, as well as practical, value.

“If I came to this protest after 372 years [since the hospital opened in 1642], it was for a good reason,” she told The Daily in French. “The hospital was founded because people had health problems and it was necessary then. […] And it’s just as necessary today.”