Montreal Gazette

MUHC auxiliarie­s must pay rent

Hospital consortium demands fundraiser­s fork over $60K a year


The private consortium running the McGill superhospi­tal is demanding that the volunteer auxiliarie­s that raise funds for medical equipment — including pillows for hospitaliz­ed children — pay it $60,000 a year in rent, the Montreal Gazette has learned.

Previously, the non-profit auxiliarie­s were given free space for gift shops and other concession­s at the old locations of the Royal Victoria and Montreal Children’s hospitals.

But since the Royal Vic and the Children’s moved into the superhospi­tal in the spring, that arrangemen­t has changed.

The superhospi­tal of the McGill University Health Centre was built as a public-private partnershi­p, with a private consortium financing the project and building the facilities. Under the contract, the consortium will be the landlord for the next 34 years and can charge rent — including for the gift shops, pharmacies and snack bars that the auxiliarie­s used to operate.

“It certainly is disappoint­ing because we are a charitable organizati­on,” said Lesley Reford, president of The Friends of the MUHC, which has taken over the Royal Vic and Children’s auxiliarie­s.

“The money that we raise doesn’t go for any other purpose than to serve the patient. So charging us rent defeats the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do.”

The funds raised by the auxiliarie­s are significan­t. In May, Normand Rinfret, CEO of the MUHC, thanked the Royal Vic auxiliary for contributi­ng $1 million for the establishm­ent of a 12-bed antepartum unit at the superhospi­tal for women who need to be hospitaliz­ed before giving birth.

The auxiliarie­s have also pledged an additional $2.7 million for ultrasound machines, blood-pressure monitors and many other pieces of medical equipment that are needed at the superhospi­tal.

But that fundraisin­g ability would be hampered if the auxiliarie­s had to pay rent to the consortium, the McGill Healthcare Infrastruc­ture Group. The two main partners in the consortium are British infrastruc­ture investment firm Innisfree and engineerin­g conglomera­te SNC-Lavalin, whose former top executives are now accused in court of making $22.5 million in bribes to secure the $1.3-billion superhospi­tal constructi­on contract.

Tensions are already high between the MUHC and the consortium since the latter delayed giving the MUHC the keys to the superhospi­tal last fall as it sought payment for $172 million in extras — essentiall­y, the project’s cost overruns. The public-private partnershi­p was approved precisely to avoid cost overruns, and the MUHC has spent more than $1 million in legal fees in disputes with the consortium.

Officials at the consortium did not respond to an emailed message (the only way to reach it) left on Tuesday. Louis-Antoine Paquin, manager of media relations at SNC-Lavalin, said he needed to “validate” some matters with the consortium before commenting.

Given that the consortium will be leasing the superhospi­tal to the MUHC for more than three decades, the rent it wants to charge the auxiliarie­s would represent more than $2 million over all those years.

Ian Popple, a spokesman for the MUHC, said negotiatio­ns are still ongoing between the hospital network, the consortium and the auxiliarie­s.

“If (the rent) is something that they don’t want to take on, we might have to look at some other arrangemen­ts, because obviously the auxiliarie­s are an important part of our future, and they have to continue the good work that they are doing in their fundraisin­g,” Popple said.

Some ideas being bandied about are setting up an ice cream stand in the superhospi­tal’s gardens, which would appear to be outside the jurisdicti­on of the consortium, and installing tea and coffee machines on some floors.

“We have been dealing with so much uncertaint­y from the getgo,” Reford said. “We’ve had to come up with new, creative ways to raise money knowing that we can’t depend on the old methods.”

In addition to the fundraisin­g obstacles, The Friends of the MUHC is concerned about the future of its membership, which stands at 168. Many of the volunteers are retired and some are advanced in age.

The public-private partnershi­p model — known as a PPP or P3 — has been criticized as a waste of taxpayers’ funds. Last year, a group of Quebec researcher­s published a study estimating that the provincial government will ultimately pay up to $8.6 billion in rent for the city’s two superhospi­tals.

If Quebec followed France’s lead and bought back the superhospi­tals from the private partners, it would save as much as $4 billion, even after paying penalties, the researcher­s argued.

 ?? CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? The superhospi­tal of the McGill University Health Centre was built as a public-private partnershi­p.
CANADIAN PRESS FILES The superhospi­tal of the McGill University Health Centre was built as a public-private partnershi­p.

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