Listen Up! Hospital decision bad, Finley decision good. – Opinion

Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

The Hospital situation

There were a number of interesting comments posted on Listen Up! last week concerning the joint resolution of the Huntsville and Bracebridge Councils to recommend one acute care and one ambulatory care hospital in Muskoka. Many of them expressed serious reservations with this decision. 

In addition, I have heard from several people that the Mayor is very unhappy with me for my comments in Listen Up. Apparently he thinks I am a fearmonger.  The facts are, however, that as of that joint Council meeting, the situation in terms of hospital care in Muskoka has changed and the public has a right to be aware of it. A year ago, the mayors of both Huntsville and Bracebridge committed to supporting two acute care hospitals in Muskoka. Now they and their Councils have given support to ‘two campuses of care’ only one of which will offer full acute care services. This is a serious change and a big setback that has the real potential of affecting one of the two communities negatively.

So far, there has been no real explanation as to why having an acute care hospital in only one community is now an acceptable proposition when it was not a year ago. The public has had no input. The decision to support the Retention Committee’s recommendations was made on the spot. The only input our Council had was the tremendous community response one year ago, firmly rejecting the very proposal that Council has now approved.  Based on what we know, the public has every right to think we have taken a step backward.

The Town has quite correctly held public consultation sessions on issues of much less consequence to Huntsville than adequate hospital care. So what was the rush in jumping to this conclusion without finding out how the public feels about it?  A friend of mine who has a business in Huntsville told me that in chatting with the Mayor he learned that there was a plan afoot to protect the interests of Huntsville. That is good to hear.  But what is it?  We need to know and we need to know soon.  It is called effective communication. Don’t worry…be happy, is not a strategy.

Notwithstanding that Council has now taken a stand along with their Bracebridge counterparts, there is still time for the Town to hold a consultation meeting to receive public input.  And if they learn something about how our community feels or what a better solution might be, there will be no shame in reversing or revising their current position.

It is interesting that the Hospital Board (MAHC) announced this week that their position for a single site hospital in Muskoka remains unchanged in spite of the joint resolution of the Huntsville and Bracebridge Councils. Presumably, therefore, at some point they will be moving forward with their stated intention to appoint a Site Committee to decide where that hospital will be located.  That being the case, it is to be hoped that the Huntsville Hospital Retention Committee, a bunch of really talented folks, along with their paid consultant, will turn their attention to their original mandate to prepare a proposal to the Site Committee that would fully protect the interests of the people of Huntsville and North Muskoka in relation to a fully serviced hospital in our community. We are counting on you. It would be a shame to show up there empty handed.

And finally, in relation to this issue, I have no intention of letting up on pressing for a solution for acute hospital care that protects our community, no matter who it offends. Public oversight, especially on important matters, is a key part of our democratic system at all levels of government. This is especially so at the municipal level as there is no opposition component in the governance model for local political structures.

When the Forester was locally owned, the publisher, Liz Rice, did not hesitate to hold elected officials accountable. I was Mayor during part of that time and sometimes it hurt….really hurt.  But it is part of the process and a reality one accepts when you sign up for public office. It’s part of the job. You just suck it up and get over it. Easier said than done, I know! The media, of which I am now a part, does have a responsibility to hold politicians accountable in the public interest and to stimulate community debate. I have every intention of following that tradition in this column.

John Finley

The court case is finally over and John Finley has paid the price for his single indiscretion in relation to Blackbird Boats when he was Economic Development Officer for the Town of Huntsville. It was a sad day for me because I know John Finley. I worked with him for six years when I was Mayor and I held him then, as I do now, in high regard. John never stopped working in what he believed to be the best interests of Huntsville. He was a terrific ambassador for our community and very effective in promoting it.

It would be hard for people not directly involved with the Town to understand the intense pressure under which many of the folks there work. But I was there and I saw it and it certainly didn’t dissipate after I left. There is political pressure. There is administrative pressure. There is pressure to get things done and to make problems go away. And then there is the whole question of job security.  I have no doubt that John Finley got caught up in all of that. And before anyone suggests otherwise, I am not pointing at any individual, but rather the system itself.

Huntsville Council has made a wise and humane decision in agreeing to pay John Finley’s legal costs even though, technically, they could send the bill to him. He made a mistake, but there is much more to it than that. He has been an exemplary Town employee for many years and has contributed a great deal to our community. He can now move forward with his head held high.


  1. I have to admit that I often agree with my friend Hugh, but in this case either we go with no story or the whole story regarding both the hospital and Mr. Finley. If I decide not pay my taxes, I will not likely get such forgiveness (even though i consider myself a nice upstanding man like Mr. Finley). You say the system is at fault – has anything change since you were Mayor? If it has what was it that caused a good man to do a foolish thing – a lap of good judgement? Perhaps the system is paying the cost (at least the legal fees) but who is the system – are we all responsible – that is one way of interpreting being “my brother’s keeper” -but it seems that those making decisions about how town money is spetd need to take more responsibility when it comes to spending “our” money.
    Secondly, about the hospital. You are right that this two site proposal was put forth by the hospital board some time ago and if I recall it raised quite a stink. Now they propose one site for all and it is causing a stink again. So it would seem that – let’s just keep things the way they were and all will be happy. But the issue isn’t about “happiness” it is about good health care. If one of the two site is going to have acute care and the other not – I agree that doesn’t sound like good health care. No doubt Huntsville hospital already has land and it is actually more central than even Port Sydney (I may be wrong on the geography, but not likely).
    Where I really agree with you is that I have to admit that we now that the lowest-key Mayor and Council I can ever remember. In some places that is called “good leadership” but then again there are times when the Captain needs to get his shoes dirty.

  2. The people of north Muskoka and south Parry Sound need a full care hospital that is not further south than Huntsville. I still don’t understand MAHC’s opinion that scrapping a hospital that is central to the huge catchment in Huntsville, where they own enough property to expand while still fully operating business as usual, with minor tweaks to the infrastructure that is already there, with a medical community fully built adjacent to the property or part of it, is an intelligent decision.

  3. Hugh keep fighting the good fight for retention of the Hospital.
    Your stance on John Finley I believe is wrong. John is a very good guy I quite like him. However he committed a crime. Therefore the tax payers should not have to bear this expense. It is a very bad precedent. When the late Mike Greaves was charged with conflict of interest and as convicted did the town pay his legal fees? If they did that was the bad precedent. If the treasurer embezzles money from the town do we pay those legal fees? If the mayor is in a conflict of interest do we pay those legal bills? All of the people in those positions today are good guys. But if the pressures of life force them to break the law, I do not believe that the tax payer of Huntsville should pick up the tab.

  4. The longer the discussion over the hospital continues, the clearer things become.
    1. It seems, from what I have read in the comments, that no level of government (municipal, district, provincial) supports a new, single-site, centrally-located hospital in a ” green field”. I am told that, “to pretend that this option is still on the table is not productive”.
    2. It seems that there is no appetite on the part of government to change the funding formula for our benefit in this region.
    3. It seems that it is not sustainable to have two, equal acute-care hospitals, one in each town, (judging from what has been happening in the recent past)
    4. So, it seems that the one option left is to have one acute-care hospital (Site A) in one town and one non-acute-care health facility (Site B) in the other town.
    If this is correct, then it seems to me that the logical location for the acute-care hospital is Huntsville, which is geographically central to the region being served and already has sufficient land.

  5. Julie de Forest on

    There are too many seniors in both locations and we need both. I know how often I have to use it and we have excellent care. Politicians should mind their own business. They like to change things and give themselves a raise, they must not have too much to you. We are willing to pay more taxes in order to have health care nothing is free.

  6. Thank You Hugh! A voice of reason!!
    Pretty much everything I wanted to say has been pretty much said already! Except the simplest thing of all! Has ANYONE timed the distance patients must travel to reach the closest hospital? So I thought I would just do a little mapquest journey…during light traffic close to midnight.
    Burk’s Falls to Huntsville = 30 minutes
    Burk’s Falls to Bracebridge = 48 minutes
    Huntsville to Bracebridge = 29 minutes
    Bracebridge to Orillia = 37 minutes
    Orillia to Barrie = 28 minutes
    Interesting to note that Residents of Burk’s Falls would be travelling 11 minutes longer to reach Bracebridge than Residents from Bracebridge would need to travel to Orillia. Orillia is rapidly growing and it does not take rocket science to see that they need a new hospital. It will likely be a large state of the art hospital providing Health Care for a catchment area that technically could include Bracebridge since travel time is only 37 minutes. 11 minutes less than Burk’s Falls residents would have to travel to Bracebridge. In fact Bracebridge has great options if their Hospital should close and require medical care. 37 minutes to Orillia. 29 minutes to
    Huntsville. Burk’s Falls resident travel time is actually a minute longer now then what Bracebridge would have to travel to Huntsville. Of course we haven’t included the catchment areas therefore travel time will vary. Therefore logistically *if* a new super hospital is built it should be in Huntsville not Port Sydney and not Bracebridge. Huntsville’s catchment area is large and spread out and of course it isn’t all as simple as doing a mapquest journey. HOWEVER it is food for thought. Whether be it the ridiculous idea of Site A/Site B Health care campuses or whether it be a super hospital. Precious minutes can be a matter of life or death. And the nature of the beast is that accidents, injury, illness have no boundaries and do not have a schedule. Every single day patients arrive at our hospitals.
    We are talking about human beings that can be detrimentally affected by decisions that a Hospital Board will make on behalf of a community.
    Anyone north of Huntsville should not end up being collateral damage because they have suddenly lost accessible health care in a timely manner. It’s time to focus on keeping both Huntsville and Bracebridge Hospitals intact and truly there really should be no other option!

    • I agree! And I did consider this. However I posted mapquest results only. I intentionally stayed away from my iphone GPS results as well as personal drive time and the fact the “math” did not “add up”.
      I am also personally aware of Huntsville’s catchment area. And aware that Burks Falls is in Huntsville’s catchment and not North Bay’s. I am not sure how mapquest gets their results, I would assume it is via satellite and speed limits which would vary and affect time as does traffic and how many lanes for the Highway, intersection allowances etc. The results as to how long it will take vary with heavy traffic. I quoted mapquest feedback during “light” traffic. Therefore it is not as simple as adding up the math. The same as driving 3 blocks in downtown toronto can take 5 minutes or 45 minutes.

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