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Shriners to keep orthopedic hospital in Montreal

BALTIMORE, Md. – The Shriners have voted against moving their Montreal children’s hospital to London, Ont. It was a surprise ending to a hard fought battle, as earlier this year, the board of directors of the Shriners had recommended the move to London.

However, the decision had required ratification by at least two-thirds of delegates at the Shriners’ annual convention. The resolution was defeated at the convention, also known as the Imperial Council, by a margin of 608 votes to 605.

The vote caps months of escalating jockeying between the two groups, with Montreal seeking to keep a facility that’s regarded as a global centre of medical expertise, and London eager to add it to its own constellation of leading-edge hospitals.

Members of the Montreal group greeted the news with jubilation.

“We won! We won!” yelled one Montrealer, his arms raised, as he exited the convention floor where the results were announced. The London bid committee’s chair, Tony Dagnone, accepted the defeat graciously. “I’m very, very pleased for Montreal,” he said. “This was a marathon. There is one winner and a non-winner. That’s the way we have to look at it.”

Mr. Dagnone said London would not continue to push for a Shriners hospital.

“No. We’ve been at this for five-and-a-half years,” he said. “We’re going to close the book on this.”

The resolution called for the closure of the existing Montreal hospital and construction of one in London. The 40-bed Montreal hospital, which has outgrown the Mount Royal site where its 80-year-old facility is located, will remain.

No decision has been taken on the construction of a new hospital.

Gene Bracewell, the high-ranking Shriner who chaired two hospital selection committees in the past six years, said the approximately $100-million his organization was prepared to spend on a new Canadian facility will now go somewhere else.

“The hospital at the present time can’t expand. We’ve built to the property lines. It’s undersized for what we need. But the voting delegates did not give us the two-thirds [majority].”

Nevertheless, Montreal officials were optimistic that they will win the new hospital by default, as there is already a new McGill University hospital planned for a nearby site.

“It is my belief that when they understand the value of the new site being next to the children’s hospital, of sharing resources for the benefit of children, they will build a new facility at the Glen Yards,” said Dr. Abraham Fuks, dean of medicine at McGill University.

U.S. Shriners – who constituted more than 90% of all voting delegates – expressed a variety of reasons for voting against the move to London.

Russ McKinsey, from Erie, Pa., was worried a new London hospital would interfere with his local Shriners facility. “Our hospital is only 40 miles south of the London site as the crow flies,” he said.

Overall, the issue centred on Montreal’s ability to clean up the site of a proposed super-hospital slated to be built next spring. The former Glen Rail Yards are said to require the removal of lead and zinc waste before they can be safely used. It is on the Glen Yards that Montreal officials would also like to build a new Shriners orthopedic hospital for children.