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.
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.