Listen Up! A new hospital for Bracebridge means Huntsville will have to fight for its fair share of the money



Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

It’s All in the Small Print … 

The past week appears to have been a good one when it comes to hospital care in Muskoka.  After years of posturing, Muskoka Algonquin Health Care, (MAHC) has accepted the recommendation of a Task Force, appointed by them, for two acute-care hospital sites in Muskoka. At the end of the day it did not come as too much of a surprise. There was simply too much community opposition across Muskoka, for anything other than two acute-care hospitals, one in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville.  And so, the decision was made to give the people what they want or at least to make them think that is what they got. I for one, am not so sure.

My concern is not with the Task Force. On the whole, they did a thorough job and acted in good faith. My sense is that most, but not all, members of the Task Force truly believe that future health care in Muskoka will include two fully equipped, acute-care hospitals with neither site subordinate to the other. I have much less faith in the MAHC Board however and I continue to believe that there is a strategy in place, at least by some of its members, to facilitate the construction of a new hospital in Bracebridge.

There is a hint of that in the material submitted by the Hospital Task Force last week, but you have to go to the small print to find it. The main report of the Task Force did not provide any information on where the hospitals would be located in Huntsville and Bracebridge but they did indicate that a Siting Report was one of the documents they utilized in their deliberations. In the appendix to their Report, one of the many attachments included a site analysis summary. This document proposed that the Huntsville Hospital would remain at its current site. In Bracebridge however, two potential sites are identified. One is at their current location and the other is at Highway 11. Most importantly, the Highway 11 site is given a more positive rating than the existing site and if chosen, would have to result in the construction of a new hospital in Bracebridge.

Several months ago, in a Listen Up Commentary, I said this.

“I continue to believe that the MAHC Board will ultimately determine that whether there be one hospital site or two in Muskoka, the current Bracebridge site (in their view) is not suitable for updating or renovation. Hence, a case will be made for a new hospital in Bracebridge to be built on a site that has been optioned by the Town for this purpose. The inevitable outcome of that scenario would be that the majority of available capital funding would go to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Bracebridge and Huntsville would be left with a 35-year old hospital. While lip service in the short term, may be paid to acute care hospital services in Huntsville, the two hospitals would no longer be of equal status. “

One should also remember a statement made to Muskoka District Council by Phil Matthews, who is now Chair of the MAHC Board. He was asking the District for $144 million for future hospital funding. He said it was for, “a major asset we do not have right now.”

It is a fair question to ask why anyone in North Muskoka should care if Bracebridge were to get a new hospital as long as there was a fully functional acute-care facility in Huntsville. The truth is, we shouldn’t care, as long as renovations in Huntsville would bring that hospital to the same state as the new Bracebridge site. The hard answer however, is that there are simply not enough dollars around for that to happen.

In another Listen Up commentary earlier this year, I wrote this.

“The result of all this, taken one step at a time, will be that Bracebridge will get a new hospital, “the major asset we don’t have right now”, referred to by Phil Matthews when soliciting funds from the District. Most of the available capital funds will go to the Bracebridge site. There will be little money left over to fully renovate the Huntsville site and sooner, rather than later, most if not all of acute care hospital services will be centered in Bracebridge”.

My great fear is that while giving lip service to a two site acute-care hospital model for Muskoka, step by step, MAHC will effectively move back to an earlier recommendation of one of the health care committees, for one hospital site to be fully acute care and the other, Site B,  to be an ambulatory site (emergency services only) with an emphasis on geriatric care. With a new Fairvern Nursing home being built on the current Huntsville Hospital campus and if a new acute-care hospital is built in Bracebridge, one does not need to be a brain surgeon to guess where site B would be.

The good news in all of this is that Huntsville’s Mayor, Scott Aitchison, is well aware that in spite of the recommendations of the Hospital Task Force and their confirmation by the MAHC Board, there is much more to be done before Huntsville can breathe easily when it comes to retaining an acute-care hospital in this community. He knows that it is the next phase of the work of the Task Force, when sites and allocation of costs are identified, where decisions will be made that will be critical to the future of hospital services in Muskoka. He has pledged to be on top of that and to follow the money and make sure that Huntsville gets its fair share.

Two acute-care hospitals in Muskoka is now the official position of the MAHC Board. Even if their remains a hidden agenda, that is an important step forward.  But as Mayor Aitchison has said, the devil is in the details and until we see them clearly spelled out, no one should rest on their laurels.

Call me a cynic, but I am convinced that the job of ensuring a full-service, acute-care hospital for Huntsville is far from done. It is too soon to celebrate. We need to stay on full alert!

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  1. I agree.
    We need to ensure that an equal distribution of capital funding takes place between the two sites, regardless of whether one site has a completely new build and the other site, a partially new build; let the difference be made up by fund-raising within the communities.
    Renovations to an old building can be just as costly or more costly, than a start-from-scratch facility.

  2. If a new hospital in Bracebridge utilizes all the modern efficient uses of waste management, sustainable power supply and technolgies it can and should be a self-sufficient, off-grid facility. If this is achieved at this campus, Huntsville will become a triage station for Bracebridge, Parry Sound , North Bay, Barrie Hospitals and Specialty Hospitals beyond.
    If this is the will of the Committee they are on the right path.

  3. Len Macdonald on

    That didn’t take long. The ink is barely dry on the board decision for two hospitals and people are already planting their stakes in the ground for their share of the funds to build them. I thought that the new hospital facilities were for all of Muskoka and not just the parochial special interests of one geographic area. Why does everything have to be a fight here? “Can’t we all just get along?”

  4. Oh Len. When in the past years did this debate ever go easy? Hospitals get along, in our dreams. Very good point.

  5. Folks .. We need a new hospital! The ones we have are old and outdated and the issues with the 2 hospitals have been discussed many many times! From this article it sure sounds like Bracebridge will win .. great !..and the other site … ‘same old’.. ‘same old’ .. but that is what you want! Huntsville will become like a ‘walk in’ clinic and Bracebridge will have a brand new hospital with all the bells and whistles! Huntsville … Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for and .. this could one the biggest examples of all time .. stuck in a time warp for years and years … and years … with ALL the problems you currently have … no funding, old services, old building and no new technology etc etc! Will be interesting when the ‘final’ proposal(s) are approved and who gets the … money … now and … in the future!

  6. Hugh, I completely agree with you. That it is blatantly unfair will never occur to anyone at the MOH/LHIN level. Huntsville’s population is approximately 20,000; Bracebridge’s 16,000. Huntsville’s population triples in summer and doubles in winter; neither of which happens in Bracebridge. And neither town is central to the District. Huntsville, however, services all the population that is closer to it than to North Bay: other than Gravenhurst and Severn Bridge, Bracebridge services very little population to the south. Considering the total catchment area, Huntsville is by far the more central.
    I don’t think that many would take issue with Bracebridge retaining its current hospital, and expanding onto lands which they have already purchased. They can split services sensibly between the two sites.
    My fear is that Mayor Aitchison, as vigilant as he may be, will probably require more support than he can muster on the Task Force to effect a fair and impartial resolution.

    • I think Hugh’s and Rob’s analyses are correct. The deck has been stacked against Huntsville for more than just the hospital–much of the thrust of the District has been to promote Bracebridge over Huntsville. We are likely going to have to keep pushing (I wouldn’t say “fighting”) for Huntsville to get its fair share of funding. We NEED Huntsville Hospital to be a “state-of-the-art” facility as it stands alone from North Bay through Port Sydney. South Muskoka has Soldiers Memorial in Orillia as their backup. We in Huntsville will eventually be relegated to going to Bracebridge or even further south if we don’t get the funding we deserve as the largest municipality in an area stretching from Orillia to North Bay.

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