null In Memoriam: Nicolas Steinmetz, B.Sc. MDCM, MPH

A special tribute to Dr. Nicolas Steinmetz – 1937-2023

A message from Lucie Opatrny, MD MHCM M.Sc., President and Executive Director, MUHC

On September 7, 2023, Nicolas Steinmetz, B.Sc. MDCM, MPH, passed away at the age of 86, after living with sarcoma for five years. Dr. Steinmetz was a physician, the executive director of the Montreal Children's Hospital for two terms, a member of the Council of Services for Children and Adolescents, the first director of planning of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), a chairman emeritus of the Board of Directors of the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, an invaluable member of the $100-million The Best Care for Children capital campaign, and an associate professor in the department of Pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University.

A man who cared deeply about access to quality care, Dr. Steinmetz was a pioneer in the field of social pediatrics. He set up clinics in Pointe St. Charles, Little Burgundy and Kahnawake, launched McGill’s first Family Medicine Unit and the McGill-Baffin Island Program (pre Northern Program), and helped establish the University of Nairobi’s School of Pediatric Medicine in Kenya. Moreover, acutely aware of changes in the clinical landscape and obsolescence of hospital infrastructure, he planted the seed that led to the voluntary merger of teaching hospitals (MUHC) and the vision of one campus.

Amongst other MUHC builders, Dr. Steinmetz was instrumental in the eventual creation of the Glen site. A 2011 interview speaks volumes to his approach and perseverance in the early 1990s. “We did a lot of research; we travelled, we saw things. Montreal did not understand what a new hospital was. Nobody, not even the government, not the architectural firms, nobody (…).” He highlighted that the planning office therefore invited world leaders in hospital architecture, hospital management, development and technology to Montreal to present at a conference attended by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, other healthcare stakeholders, Montreal architecture firms, and media, etc. He noted that the event was very successful because people left saying ‘they did not know this or that”. Later, when the planning office reflected on project needs, he noted “Every service, every medical specialty had a planning panel. We must have had about 30 on every panel, and there was every kind of professional. Take heart disease (…). You would have a cardiologist, surgeon, dietician, social worker, nurse and respirologist. Every planning panel had a patient who had that problem.”

In another interview, he underscored that “the guiding principle was that it had to be a tertiary care hospital that was going to do only the high-tech, complicated stuff. It had to be built in such a way that it would be flexible for the future, as the technology changes. It had to be a LEED building, environmentally friendly, with lots of light. It should be easy to get to and be a welcoming place.” Dr. Steinmetz, front and centre in this photo, was clearly a proud man when the MUHC inaugurated the Glen site in 2015.

To those who worked with him, Dr. Nicolas Steinmetz was a great boss and collaborator. To those who learnt from him, he was a superb teacher and mentor. To those with whom he negotiated, he was purposeful, determined, firm, and evidence driven. Finally, to those who benefited from his care, he was warm, generous and empathetic. His exceptional contributions in health care and as a volunteer earned him much-deserved respect and recognition. In 2015, the endowed Nicolas Steinmetz and Gilles Julien Chair in Community Social Pediatrics, jointly held by McGill University and the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, was announced. In 2017, His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, then Governor General of Canada and former Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, travelled to the P.K. Subban Atrium at The Children’s and awarded Dr. Steinmetz the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. In 2018, the Ordre national du Québec bestowed upon him the title of Chevalier.

Our heartfelt condolences are being extended on behalf of our MUHC-McGill community to Dr. Steinmetz’s wife of 63 years, Birgitta, his children, Oren (Rebecca), Peter (Sharon), Andrew (Jill) and Gabriela (Joseph), as well as his great-grandchildren, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, and friends. We will be forever grateful for his legacy.