Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water
There have been some negative postings on-line recently, about members of Huntsville Council remaining mute after Councillor Tim Withey attacked the recommendations of the Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC) Task Force, in relation to hospital care in Muskoka.
I believe they did exactly the right thing.
Anyone who reads my column on a regular basis, knows that I have been highly critical of the MAHC Board as it relates to future hospital care in Muskoka and believe that there was a bias toward Bracebridge. I still believe there are members on that Board whose first priority is a new hospital site in Bracebridge no matter what effect that might have on hospital care in North Muskoka. However, I also believe there is a time for confrontation and a time for cooperation and on that basis, in my opinion, Councillor Withey’s outburst was pre-mature and potentially harmful to Huntsville.
The recommendation of the Task Force, which has not yet been approved by the MAHC Board, is for two new hospitals in Muskoka, one in Bracebridge and the other here. During all of the discussions, debates, committees and task forces over the past several years, Huntsville’s position, as articulated by Mayor Scott Aitchison, has consistently been in favour of two hospitals in Muskoka, as long as one is not subordinate to the other. Assuming that there will continue to be two hospitals in Muskoka, it is highly likely, for a number of reasons, that there will be a new site in Bracebridge. If that occurs, and Huntsville does not keep pace, it will only be a matter of time before at least some of the acute care services here, are moved to the more modern and up-to-date facility in South Muskoka.
In my view, if immediate criticism of the Task Forces recommendation continues from Huntsville, someone on the MAHC Board is going to ask, “What part of ‘YES’ don’t you like?”.
Huntsville has asked for an acute care hospital that is not subordinate to Bracebridge and if the MAHC Board approves the recommendation of the Task Force, that is what they will be supporting. It is a far cry from positions they have taken in the past and for that they deserve some credit. Had Council condemned the Task Forces Report, it would be easier for the MAHC Board to look at other alternatives, which may not be in Huntsville’s best interest. That is why, the members of Council that did so, were wise to keep their mouths shut.
Of course, there is the question of cost and affordability and it is a good one. In his comments to Council, if I understood them correctly, Tim Withey believes that the costs indicated in the Task Force Report are misleading and would never be accepted by the Ministry of Health. He may be right, but he may be wrong. In my view, the place to have that conversation, or any other conversation related to hospital care in Muskoka, is inside the tent and not out.
If the MAHC Board indicates they want to support two new hospital sites in Muskoka, we should be working with them, no matter how daunting the task, no matter how much we suspect ulterior motives by a few of them, and not against them. If things go wrong, by being there, that is where we will make the difference. Even if the recommendations of the Task Forced are proven to be not feasible, at least we would be at the table, to look for a compromise that would not be at odds with either community.
The MAHC Task Force consists of 25 volunteers, all with different areas of expertise. In addition, they have used Consultants recommended by the Ministry of Health and who have deep experience with what the Ministry will and will not accept. Also, I know, from speaking to various members of the Task Force, that they have pushed back, and not taken anything at face value. Councillor Withey may know better than all of them, but we should at least give them the opportunity to make their case, and ourselves the opportunity to evaluate their arguments before condemning their recommendations.
I have had the opportunity to see the report of the MAHC Task Force. Is there a huge difference between renovating our hospitals or building new ones? No. Is the cost of building a single site hospital in Muskoka less? Yes. But it is not a huge difference and with that option, one community is going to win and the other lose, with significant health care and economic consequences to the loser. No matter the argument we would have for a Huntsville site, under those circumstances, there is at least a 50 per cent chance that the loser would be North Muskoka. Will there be a cost to local taxpayers to maintain two up-to-date acute care hospitals in Muskoka? Yes. Is it a reasonable cost? Yes. Is this whole concept, recommended by the Task Force a non- starter? Maybe and maybe not. Certainly, Councillor Withey thinks so. But others, many others, are not so sure.
I do believe that Tim Withey has the best interests of Huntsville at heart. But I also believe his strategy is dead wrong. If there is an opportunity to work with each other, rather than against each other, that is what we should do and that is what we are being offered.
It is an unkept secret that Councillor Withey plans to run for Mayor, if Scott Aitchison is elected as our member of Parliament. It is becoming equally clear that he plans to use the hospital issue as his platform.
But the interests of Huntsville come first and that is why it is important that we keep our eyes wide open, but also, not to work against those who claim to support what we want.
To do so, would simply be throwing out the baby with the bath water.
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