This is the final installment in the 2018 series of commentaries from municipal politicians which allowed them to tell you, in their own words, what is important to them, what bugs them and what makes them tick. Each week we featured a member of either the Huntsville or Lake of Bays Council. As we enter an election year, this was one opportunity to get a better picture of your elected politicians. This week: Huntsville mayor Scott Aitchison.
Huntsville Doppler has asked me to share what is important to me, what bugs me and what makes me ‘tick’.
A thriving Huntsville is important to me. Obstacles to the prosperity of our community are what bug me. And what makes me tick is my ambition to ensure that the fleeting time in which I am the custodian of the office I hold will be well regarded by the people I serve and by those of future generations who look back on our achievements. I believe that for our community to prosper, we need to encourage investment and the creation of jobs while protecting the natural surroundings of this beautiful place. To support that we need to ensure that there is an adequate supply of attainable housing, public infrastructure, social supports, healthy living options and cultural engagement opportunities.
Of course, one of the most important elements of our public infrastructure is our hospital, and nothing bugs me more than those who are trying to take it away from us.
The recommendation the hospital board accepted back in 2015 to submit a plan for a single hospital for Muskoka, East Parry Sound and Algonquin was soundly rejected by all the communities they serve, as well as our MPP Norm Miller, our MP Tony Clement and all elected municipal representatives of the area. As a result, the Ministry of Health told the hospital board to go back to the drawing board and review their plan. Now there is a much larger task force working away at a new plan to present to the board. All the municipal representatives on this task force, the communities, the MPP, the MP, the new leader of the PC Party, even the former Minister of Health, are all on record with the position that we need an acute-care hospital with full emergency room, surgical services, obstetrics etc. in both Huntsville and in Bracebridge.
Despite all of this, the board members who are part of the task force and the CEO, Natalie Bubela, continually insist that no decision has been made. What is abundantly clear to me is that their minds have been made up and they continue to push for a single site. Sometimes they are subtle about it, such as when Ms. Bubela refers to our disadvantage in operating two sites. Language is a powerful tool especially when used to turn the noble efforts of two hospitals which combined their administrations to save money as a weapon against the citizens they profess to care about.
The self-selecting, elite board of directors are quick to remove people who challenge their direction and careful to select only people they approve to sit on the board — it is, by design, not for the people, but above the people.
When I think about the era in Huntsville when our current hospital was built I am struck by the similarities and the differences.
A little bit of Hospital history
In the early 1970s Huntsville was a booming thriving place and our hospital was located where Fairvern Nursing Home is today. The hospital Board of Directors was a local group of Huntsville citizens who cared about the growth and prosperity of our town — Ed Arbic, Dr. Deane Murdy, Jane Rice, Jim Jordan, Dr. Lyn Sergeant and Hugh Mackenzie to name a few. They launched an ambitious campaign to expand and renovate the hospital with a goal to raise $450,000 in a town of about 10,000 people (that is $2,622,345 in 2018 numbers).
In October 1971 we elected Frank Miller as our MPP and in February 1974 Premier Davis named him Minister of Health. Despite a freeze on new hospital construction and the closure of some hospitals in the province, the Huntsville Hospital received funds from the Ministry of Health to hire a consultant to review their expansion plans. Among the conclusions of the report were that the existing four-acre site was not nearly large enough to accommodate the growing community of Huntsville and a nursing home was needed. Then in May 1972, the Hospital Board purchased an option on the 40 acres of land where the hospital is today. In June of 1974, Minister Miller announced a new hospital funding formula for “northern communities with populations less than 12,000.” Up to 5/6ths of the approved costs would be covered by the province! Muskoka District Council voted in favour of supporting the new hospital with a contribution of $1,111,102. Ultimately the beautiful hospital on the hill overlooking Fairy Lake was opened on June 2, 1978!
While there is no doubt that the hospital business has changed, and healthcare has changed, what has not changed is the need for our hospital and the fervent support of everyone in our community for it.
We may ultimately have to fight with the Province to keep both acute-care hospitals open, but what is so frustrating today is that we must fight our own hospital administration and board before we even get to the Province.
Mayor Goodwin had the MPP/Minister of Health, municipal representatives, the local hospital board and the community all working together to build our hospital. At the stage we are today the crucial element we are missing is a board and CEO that care to fight for Huntsville — it feels like they are more interested in trying to play Huntsville and Bracebridge off each other to achieve their vision of healthcare in our community.
Huntsville is today a thriving and growing community. We are making progress on improving transportation infrastructure, access to affordable housing, active living options, cultural and heritage assets and more. We are working together at a regional level to improve the lives of all our citizens. While the Town of Huntsville has contributed $250,000 plus some legal costs to the Fairvern redevelopment, the District of Muskoka Council voted unanimously to contribute $10.5 million to the redevelopment of Fairvern Nursing Home and has voted to budget $600,000 per year to help our hospitals with their infrastructure needs today. On top of this we are prepared to establish a significant reserve fund for the future redevelopment of two acute-care hospitals, and yet with all of the challenges and responsibilities municipalities have and all that we have offered so far, the vast majority of my time as mayor has been spent pleading with our ‘local’ hospital board and CEO to work with us.
If the local board and the CEO would just work with us we could be powerful allies to repair the broken hospital funding formula and together we could protect and even expand the magnificent medical services available in Huntsville. If we had a shared vision and ambition to make Huntsville a thriving community that is safe for people to raise a family in and safe for us to retire in, we could do such great things. But alas, despite the endless efforts of the people in this community, Mayor Smith of Bracebridge, Reeve Stills of Burk’s Falls, our MPP Norm Miller and our MP Tony Clement, District Chair Klink, all our locally elected representatives and myself, they refuse our partnership. When it appears we have broken through to the leadership of the board, they quickly fall back into line with the CEO. I must conclude that the only reason they included any of us municipal representatives on their task force this time around was to ‘teach us the error of our ways’.
This issue is the most important challenge our Town has faced in a generation. The closure of our hospital would devastate the prosperity of Huntsville and would most certainly devastate Bracebridge and our neighbours in Muskoka, East Parry Sound and Algonquin.
We MUST win this battle – to save our services and ultimately save our town from the claws of those who seek to destroy all we have built together.
I am convinced that the time has come for us to split our hospitals up again, to remove this intransigent Board of Directors and remove the CEO. We must get back to a time when the Huntsville Hospital and the Bracebridge Hospital could find ways to work together while competing to be the best health care provider in our vast geography. We must not compete to see which community fails and which one survives.
To read more in this 2018 series of commentaries from municipal politicians, click here.
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In 1994 at the age of 21, Scott Aitchison became the youngest individual ever elected to Huntsville Town Council and Muskoka District Council.
Throughout his service as Town and District Council, Scott has been a member and has chaired numerous committees including Chair of the Huntsville Planning Committee, Chair of the Town of Huntsville Sustainability Committee, Chair of the Huntsville Planning Advisory Committee, Chair of the Committee of Adjustment, Member of Huntsville Community Services Committee, Member of Muskoka Planning and Economic Development Committee, Treasurer of the Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Organizing Committee of the 2010 Ontario Winter Youth Games held in Muskoka and has also served as Deputy Mayor. Scott has also led capital fundraising campaigns for the construction of Chrysalis Women’s Shelter, Transitional Housing and for the Algonquin Residential Hospice.
In 2014 Scott was elected as Mayor of the Town of Huntsville. In his term of office Scott has focused on financial responsibility, citizen engagement with a focus on youth, Economic Development and job creation, sustainability, attainable housing and Health Care. Scott currently sits on the Capital Plan Development Task Force with Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare which oversees the preparation of a Stage 1 Proposal submission which will recommend a preferred model for the future of healthcare in our area.
Scott is also a sales representative with Coldwell Banker Thompson Real Estate specializing in waterfront and commercial properties.