Listen Up! A personal story about non-elective surgery in Barrie and how Muskoka could ease the backlog

Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

A personal case for more hospital care in Muskoka, not less.

It has been quite a hectic two weeks in the Mackenzie household. Two Saturdays ago, my wife Anne took a serious fall on the ice outside our home. She landed hard on her back and right arm. It was quite the exercise getting her to our hospital as the ambulance could not get down our laneway and it took two crews with spikes on their shoes to wheel her up the driveway.

The ambulance crew was terrific, as were the doctors and nurses at the hospital. They quickly determined there was no spinal damage although Anne is still acutely aware of every muscle she has in her back. She had, however, broken her right wrist which was set and put in a cast, with instructions to see an orthopedic surgeon in Barrie to make sure that the wrist was healing properly. In the meantime, I have become Anne’s right hand which is somewhat ironic as I am left handed! I am now the carefully supervised sous chef, the valet and the chauffeur! Interesting times, indeed, but I am learning new skills! Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Now here is where it becomes interesting. We attended the fracture clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie this past Thursday. Two waiting rooms were full of patients and others were standing in the hallway or waiting in the cafeteria. It was organized chaos but efficient nonetheless. When we were able to see the doctor, it was quickly determined that the wrist was more seriously damaged than originally thought (although an orthopedic surgeon from Barrie had examined the x-rays while Anne was still in Huntsville Hospital). Surgery would be  required to reset the bone and secure it with metal pins. They could not operate that day because Anne had eaten breakfast so we were sent home and told we would be called in the next day. In the meantime, she could not eat or drink after midnight.

Friday morning, we were telephoned by the hospital to say they were backed up and Anne’s surgery would not take place until early evening. She still could not eat. Late afternoon we were informed that there would be no operation on Friday but it would be scheduled on Saturday…so no eating after midnight. Saturday rolls around and we are informed that surgery is scheduled for 7:00 pm …so don’t eat or drink. We check again in the early afternoon as we wanted plenty of time to get to Barrie. We were still scheduled but they were backed up again so don’t leave home until we are called and don’t eat! And so we sit and wait. At 5:30 another phone call. The good news is that Anne can eat a light dinner as she had been deferred again, but nothing after midnight as they were planning to have her in for surgery on Sunday morning (today). We were told we would get a call from the hospital last night to confirm the time.

We got that call but not the morning surgery. She is now scheduled for 6:00 pm tonight. So no eating or drinking! I am almost afraid to answer the phone today and am taking bets as to whether we will get to the hospital at all before the day is out. Oh well, it does cut down on the grocery bill and Anne is only slightly cranky!

So why am I telling you all this? Well, through it all, I have been thinking about our hospital situation in Muskoka. It drives home for me the need for fully acute care hospital services in Muskoka, including surgery. This is not a criticism of RVH but they are clearly overloaded at least when it comes to non-elective surgery.

Parry Sound, with a permanent population of less than 7,000, has a thriving hospital complex which is bigger than both Bracebridge and Huntsville Hospitals put together. This in my view, is made possible because they offer specialties such as orthopedic surgery, which attracts patients from far and wide. It begs the question for me as to why our Muskoka hospitals could not underwrite some of their costs by doing the same?

Our District has so much to offer in terms of lifestyle, location and environment. Instead of fussing over hospital services some folks think we can do without, why would we not focus on new hospital services we could have, by attracting more physicians with specialties, who provide specific services and excellence that accommodates patients, not only in our region, but across the province?

The chaos at the Barrie hospital has opened my eyes. They cannot be all things to all people and therefore the answer to treating patients from our region who require non-elective surgery is not to ship them out where they add to an already overloaded system, but rather to ensure that we have the required facilities and qualified personnel here. Muskoka is half way between Barrie and North Bay. A regional hospital here, even one located at two acute care campuses with different specialties, would go a long way toward easing the backlog, inconvenience and strain at both North Bay and Barrie. It would also provide much better hospital service to Central Ontario.

It was good to see our Member of Parliament, Tony Clement, change his support for the Bracebridge/Huntsville Councils joint resolution, which supported one fully acute-care hospital and one ambulatory-care hospital in Muskoka. When you are in politics that is not an easy thing to do. He has now supported the position of physicians from Huntsville and some from Bracebridge, which clearly outlines why the Bracebridge/Huntsville resolution cannot work in practical terms. I have also heard that Mayor Aitchison may be rethinking hospital options and I have little doubt that we will be hearing from our MPP Norm Miller on this subject soon as well. Huntsville’s business community too, has endorsed our physician’s position on hospital care in Muskoka. This is all good news which should stimulate our community to effectively demonstrate that we can enhance accessible, affordable and innovative hospital services in Muskoka, instead of downgrading them.

In the meantime, we have heard from the Barrie hospital. Surgery is backed up once again. Maybe later tonight, maybe tomorrow. Meanwhile, don’t eat. Guess whose stomach is complaining?


  1. Terry Clarke' on

    Great article, Hugh. A personal touch surrounded with a wonderful expression of efficiency of service!!

  2. Hi Hugh ,
    Good info on what’s happening out there … and it will definitely not get any better for sure. As we all migrate from the south to the north to escape all these full hospitals and emergency wings, the waiting times will become more days than hours.
    Get used to it – up here or anywhere in Ontario just remember to pack a good breakfast, lunch and dinner while you wait for your procedure and don’t admit to eating anything or you go back to the end of the line. Period.
    Pretty sad!

  3. My wife Ruth sends her sympathy, Hugh. We experienced the chaos, overcrowding etc. several times at RVH when seeking help from specialists in fractures. Their facilities and staff are greatly stressed and additional help is needed. Keep up the pressure on our local authorities for improvements in Muskoka!

  4. Dear Mr. Smith,
    Speaking as an operating room nurse with many years of experience, I would politely ask you not to encourage patients to eat before their surgery. There are many reasons why surgeons and anaesthetists need patients to have an empty belly, and it is not to cause them discomfort. Having food in your stomach while you are asleep during surgery is extremely dangerous. Waiting for a few hours with an empty stomach is a small price to pay for a safe outcome to surgery. I encourage everyone to please do as your physicians instruct!

  5. Dale Peacock on

    Excellent article Hugh although I’m sorry that Anne had to provide the personal backdrop for writing it!
    Please give her our best. I hope the surgery – when it comes – is a full-on success.

  6. Hugh Holland on

    Well said Hugh. You have demonstrated one more good reason to maintain acute care services at both Muskoka hospitals. Planners need to look at the big picture. As the GTA population continues to grow, more and more people will be looking north to escape all types of growing congestion in the GTA. That includes retirees and businesses that do not need to be in the GTA. It is generally less costly to add all types of services in the north than in a congested city. With Ontario’s $300 billion debt and downgraded credit rating, the money to build a new central hospital would be borrowed. The interest over 30 years would cost almost as much as the capital.
    Adding a few key services to existing Muskoka hospitals would help to reduce hospital and road congestion farther south, reduce carbon emissions from travel (an important government priority), serve Muskoka, East Parry Sound and Algonquin Park better, and could be done much more quickly and probably at lower cost than the alternatives. That seems like the best long range vision for all concerned.

  7. Went through the same routine with my wife about 6 years ago. The Orthopedic surgeons at RVH are very good..and that dept, whilst it looks chaotic, is exceptionally well run and organized.

    The underlying problem is Highway 400..With texting bozos and speeders getting injured in accidents…guess where they end up…RVH..Guess what type of surgeon they need? Ortho, natch.

    So, Hugh..and Anne… Like the lottery, your number will come up! Hang in there..
    PS- Next accident, try not to have it on a weekend…


  8. Rosemary Rolston on

    Having travelled down Hwy 11 to RVH many times over the years for Orthopedic Care – knee replacements, broken ankle & most recently a broken arm – I can relate to this story. We desperately need some specialists in our region. Huntsville & Bracebridge could each take a different specialty and provide a service to Muskokans and relieve the massive waiting for essential care that we deserve up here. Please MPs look at our situation and consider getting essential services up in our area which would ease the congestion in North Bay, Barrie & Toronto hospitals and provide service for Ontarians more efficiently.

  9. jean bagshaw on

    I wish Anne all the best with her surgery and her recovery.
    I am glad, Hugh, that you continue to give serious thought to the hospital situation.
    I agree with Tony Clement when he says that we need to speak with one voice when making recommendations to the government/LHIN.
    I have read the proposal made by the physicians and I think that it has many good ideas.
    Whatever we do, we need to work together…the town councils, the hospital administration, the hospital board, medical community, business community and residents. Undermining each others efforts and overstepping each other is NOT the way to go.
    If there are sufficient funds to provide two relatively equal acute-care hospitals, one in each community, both with the capacity for surgery, obstetrics and a fully functioning emergency department, then I would be in favour of that.
    But if one community will be left with a non-acute, geriatric, rehabilitative health-related facility, then, that is a “No Go”, in my opinion.
    I wouldn’t yet rule-out a new single-site, centrally-located, acute-care hospital for the whole region as there are many advantages and efficiencies to be had with this option.
    All stakeholders need to weigh-in and lets look at the future with a positive attitude.

  10. Fran Coleman on

    Parry Sound is very efficient and works extremely well, without the wait and chaos.
    Hugh,you make good points.
    Our local Doctors need to be heard and taken seriously.
    New hope,will prevail.

  11. So many opinions; so little time. What’s new?

    1) Why is everyone so interested in Mr. Clement’s flip-flop? He is not in Cabinet, and health care is a provincial responsibility (although largely funded by the feds)

    2) Why the deafening silence from Mr. Miller (as usual)? Sometimes you have to take a stand: It may cost you votes; but it will earn you respect.

    3) Even though the “practice-in-the-north” incentive is small financially, someone from our medical community should be addressing the non-financial benefits of living in Muskoka to the graduating classes.

    4) Internecine warfare with the Parry Sound hospital with respect to physicians and services is extremely poor public relations. Yes, they have a beautiful facility; but also a large catchment area, which would never realistically be served by Huntsville. Decreasing either their staff or their services , and reducing their ability to service clients (particularly to the east and north) would be untenable.

    5) Certainly, I support the viewpoint of our local physicians. I do, however, endorse Ms. Bagshaw’s statements about due diligence. Whichever alternative is embraced will represent a huge expenditure. If the bean counters decide that a hospital on the Port Sydney greenfield site is that alternative, then I feel that any further protest is completely counter-productive.

  12. Bruce Stimers on

    Linda had a fall that broke both leg bones at the ankle. She was seen in Huntsville, and referred to orthopaedic surgery. We chose to see Dr. Smythe in Parry Sound. Absolutely amazing treatment and care. Moral: GO TO PARRY SOUND!

  13. Peter R. Dirks on

    Hi Hugh,

    On March 1, I went to Huntsville Hospital at 2.00 PM after a fall on my driveway. To make a long story short, I ended up with a cast on my right wrist and arm after 10.5 hours. I was told that I would get a call for an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon from Barrie. I asked why not from Parry Sound, since my wife was treated there not too long ago. The response was that Huntsville Hospital does not deal with Parry Sound Hospital. So we waited for a call from Barrie. On March 3 in the afternoon we received a call from Barrie asking us why we are not there. Again to make a long story short, I am typing this with my left finger, a new appointment was set for March 7 at 11 am. The surgeon there told me that doctors at Huntsville did a great job. I now get an x-ray done every week in Huntsville.
    Continuation will be if you are interested.

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