Health Minister’s resignation “feels a bit like we’re starting all over again,” says Aitchison

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There’s a bit of a dark cloud of uncertainty looming over the hospital issue here with news of Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ resignation.

Doppler spoke to Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison before the start of Monday evening’s council meeting,  just hours after news of Hoskins’ resignation began circulating.

“We’ve spent so much time with that dude and he gets it,” said Aitchison. “We’ve got a lot of time spent, a lot of meetings with Minister Hoskins. He is a medical doctor; he had a cottage in Haliburton so he understands the sort of seasonal nature of our communities. He has said that he supports two acute care facilities in Muskoka and of course we never got that in writing… so now it feels a bit like we’re starting all over again but certainly I know all the briefing notes and the information that we’ve shared with the Ministry are with the Ministry and so hopefully whoever the new Minister is they’re up to speed and briefed as quickly as possible.”

In terms of the upcoming provincial election, Aitchison noted that sometimes elections can work to a municipality’s advantage. “I don’t think they want to be closing hospitals just before an election.”

He said he hopes reforming the funding formula for medium-sized hospitals remains on the table. “It’s not just Huntsville and Bracebridge [hospitals]that are struggling to pay the bills at the end of the year. It’s every medium-sized hospital in the province.”

Aitchison said Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith asked the Minister at a Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference last month when he’d be addressing funding formula shortages for medium-sized and multi-site hospitals. “Minister Hoskins actually said ‘we have the data now and an announcement on how we will fix it will be coming shortly,’” reported Aitchison. “We were overjoyed to hear that. So we’re hopeful that just because he’s leaving and doing this other business, which sounds like it might be a great program, a national Pharmacare program, that’s all well and good but we hope that the Ministry hasn’t forgotten what he said and that they will in fact fix the funding formula because that is fundamentally what is driving I think a lot of this talk of single siting and that kind of stuff. MAHC [Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare] is scrambling at the end of the year to keep the lights on because the funding formula isn’t fair to them. But that said, even if they did have a single site, they’d still be a medium-sized hospital and they’d still be struggling. So now you spent $4oo million building a brand new building, you’ve got two empty buildings and you’re still struggling to keep the lights on. To me it’s spending good money after bad,” he said.

While the MAHC taskforce is ranking community support as part of the models it is considering, Aitchison takes community support a step further. “Support is not just something you use as a ranking tool, it’s a deal breaker. If you don’t have community support for what you’re proposing, nothing’s happening.”

He also noted that without a significant monetary contribution from the District of Muskoka on the levy – “nothing’s happening.”

Aitchison said Mayor Smith, District Chair John Klinck and he have made it very clear to the Chair and Vice Chair of the hospital board that “at the end of the day if you need our money, then you better do it our way and that’s not a single site.”

He furthered that if the board thought that by putting municipal representatives on the taskforce, which is examining the various hospital models and making a recommendation on one, that somehow it would soften their stance, it hasn’t. “Maybe they thought that we would come on board and sell their myopic vision of health care, it’s not working,” he said.

In terms of Hoskins’ resignation, Aitchison said a joint letter from the District of Muskoka, towns of Huntsville and Bracebridge and the Village of Burk’s Falls was being penned. That letter will now go to the new Minister. “We want to meet with that Minister as soon as we possibly can.”

He also said that with a new provincial election looming, all candidates will be scrutinized on their stance as it pertains to health care and Muskoka in particular.

“Norm Miller has announced that he’s supporting Caroline Mulroney and I asked him at an event on Thursday where she stands on our hospital and he said he hadn’t really talked to her about it yet and I insisted that he better get on it fast.”

During Monday’s Huntsville Council session, Aitchison also told his fellow councillors that he had received “a couple of phone calls from candidate Doug Ford. He talked to me specifically about the hospitals so I was pleased that he’s certainly aware of the issue and it’s on the radar screen of the current leadership candidates as well.”

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