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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