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In the early 20th century, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Alexander Mackenzie Forbes was disturbed at the sight of children begging in the streets of Montreal. He mobilized a group of physicians and private citizens, and garnered support for the idea of a hospital dedicated to young people suffering from tuberculosis, congenital diseases and complications resulting from acute illnesses. Thanks to the generosity of the Montreal community, The Montreal Children’s Hospital came into being.
Founded upon the compassion and devotion of Dr. Forbes, the Children’s Memorial Hospital (known today as The Montreal Children’s Hospital) opened its doors on January 30, 1904 in downtown Montreal.
The first pediatric hospital in Quebec, the modest house on Guy Street saw five children in its first week. Too quickly, its ten beds could not keep up with demand. Happily, The Children’s was able to count on the generosity of its neighbour, who lent out his garden during the summer; tents were put up to house another 500 children.
Just five years after opening, the Hospital had to move from Guy Street due to lack of space for the increasing needs of children and the renown of its care. A group of residences flanking Mount Royal on Cedar Street became the new site for 45 beds. By building additions and acquiring several small buildings, the Hospital was able to meet demand until 1956, the year the Hospital moved into its current location on Tupper Street.
To better understand the economic context of the time, we must remember that patients were billed for each consultation and treatment; however, many were unable to pay the total or even partial fees. Because The Children’s adopted as its mission to treat all children in need of treatment, regardless of family income, it faced a constant need for funds. It had to wait for the Quebec law of public assistance to obtain partial financing to pay for the hospitalization of its weakest patients. However, funding for outpatient treatment, which was increasing, was not covered by government aid.
In 1961, Quebec’s Hospitalization Insurance System ensured free treatment for all hospitalized children. However, no measures were foreseen to treat outpatients or to cover fixed costs, two areas that were expensive for The Children’s. And so physicians, who volunteered their time until the introduction of Medicare in 1970, often had to waive fees for those who could not afford to pay for medical services. The survival of the Hospital literally depended upon the support of its donors in the private sector.
Although the state had become a stable source of funding, the Hospital had to respect governmental policies, most notably a directive forbidding hospitals to post a deficit. It became a question of cost-cutting for The Children’s, no easy feat considering the overflowing emergency rooms and out-patient clinics, ongoing expansion plans, and operating costs that were on the rise due to the increasing cost of labour and building materials. By 1972 though, as a result of the cost-cutting measures and community fundraising, the establishment managed to stabilize its financial situation for the first time in many years.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, established in 1973, administers funds from many generous companies and individuals. These funds enable the purchase of specialized medical and surgical equipment which The Children’s needs to support research, and to create programs such as The Pain Treatment Clinic and the Autism Spectrum Program.
As in its beginnings, balancing its budget each year remains a challenge for The Montreal Children’s Hospital. Today, staff members and citizens eagerly await the opening of the new Children’s in 2014. Thanks to the most recent planning and construction methods, the premises have been designed to offer the best long-term expansion solutions, with flexibility for future growth.
All of these projects, along with the excellent care offered at The Children’s for over 100 years, could not have existed without the legendary generosity of donors in the private sector. Thank you for helping us continue this beautiful story of compassion.