A Wake Up Call
“Oh no”, quipped a friend of mine when I said I was going to write another column about the hospital situation in Muskoka, “aren’t people getting tired of all that?” There may be some truth here, but I think I understand the apathy.
I have been increasingly despondent about the apparent lack of public interest concerning the delivery of acute care hospital services in Muskoka. Remember the days, just a few short years ago, when the S.O.S. Campaign (Save Our Services) was in full flight? People crowded the sidewalks waving signs. Letters, editorials and political speeches were rampant. We were not going to let this happen. There was no way Huntsville or Bracebridge would lose its acute care hospital facility. It was a heady time of activism but sadly, that is no more.
So much has changed since then and yet, nothing has really been accomplished. In the past two and a half years, no less than six committees have been formed to come to grips with the delivery of hospital services in Muskoka. None of them, in spite of their good intentions, have significantly moved the matter forward. People are being systematically and bureaucratically beaten down, with a myriad of Committees, Boards and Acronyms, to the point where no one knows who is who, or what is really going on. They don’t know what or where to protest any more because they have no idea who has the ball. After all the positioning, all the bureaucracy, all the money and all the posturing, there is no clear path to solving the health care issues in Muskoka related to the local delivery of acute care services. It is no wonder that many people have become discouraged and apathetic. The time has arrived however, to wake up!
Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC) has struck a special committee, called innocently enough, The Capital Plan Development Committee. Its membership includes MAHC Board members, politicians, health care providers and members of the public. Its mandate is to consult widely with the community and then make recommendations to the Hospital Board as to how future acute care services could be delivered in Muskoka. They are backed directly by the Province, who put a million dollars on the table to make it happen. Although MAHC still has a motion on their books, recommending a single-site hospital in Muskoka, they maintain that all options remain on the table as this latest consultation takes place. If true, that in itself, is a small step forward. Although there are still road blocks in a number of places, this committee may well be the light at the end of the tunnel.
For one thing, unlike many of the other efforts, the Capital Plan Development Committee is focused on one issue and one issue only and that is the future of the delivery of hospital services in Muskoka and area. Coordinating with other health care agencies is not part of their mandate. For another, this committee lacks much of the bureaucracy that has overburdened some of the other structures that were put in place to resolve health-care issues in Muskoka.
In addition to public consultation meetings that have not been particularly well attended, The Capital Plan Development Committee has launched a survey, available online to all who wish to access it. It is not a perfect survey but it is vitally important to respond to it. It is equally important to recognize that the survey is somewhat flawed.
The survey does not provide an option for two, full service, acute care sites in Muskoka. Instead, it includes an option they call ‘two sites (non status quo)”. In an recently published open letter, by Dave Wilken and Ross Maun, Huntsville residents and former MAHC Board members, one who resigned in frustration and the other who was fired, what this means is explained.
“The two site hospital option described as ‘non status quo’ is likely not what many people want in maintaining two full service acute care sites in Muskoka. The authors of the survey have skewed the option by stating the need for continued consolidation of patient programs and services across two existing sites to drive cost savings. This is a direct consequence of budget deficits caused by the Ministry of Health’s hospital funding formula being geared to large and small hospitals, but impossible for the mid range hospitals throughout Ontario, including our own.”
Not withstanding its flaws, I believe it is important to complete the survey. There is plenty of room for comments which allows for views to be conveyed to the committee that are not directly covered in the survey. Here are the ones that were important to me when I filled it out.
- We need a funding formula that allows two full service acute care sites in Muskoka.
- Failing that, I would support two acute care sites, each with surgical, emergency and ICU facilities but with different specialties or patient programs, in a manner that one hospital would not be subordinate to the other.
- A single site hospital between the two communities is not practical and would be the regretful second choice for both Bracebridge and Huntsville. There are strong arguments for Huntsville should the single site option be forced upon us. I hope it doesn’t come to that.
My greatest fear is that when it does come to where acute care hospital services will be delivered in Muskoka, we may be doomed by apathy or a sense of hopelessness. With the Capital Plan Development Committee, however imperfect its process may be, we have an opportunity to make a difference and we should take it. We should make our voices heard like we did a few years ago. A good start would be to complete the survey along with your own views. You can find it here.
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