Listen Up! If we don’t do something it’s looking like Bracebridge will get the hospital

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Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Beware of the Back Door … 

I am not usually a believer in conspiracy theories, although every once in a while they turn out to be accurate. Hopefully, that is not the case when it comes to hospital care in Muskoka, but I must admit I am beginning to wonder.

A few days ago a letter was posted in the Commentary section of Doppler from a number of local residents who are alarmed about a recent request for funding from the District of Muskoka by Muskoka Algonquin Health Care {MAHC). In a nutshell, they are concerned about two things. First, that it is a clear signal that MAHC is still on the path of wanting a new hospital in Muskoka and, second, that the Board, while it may be going through the motions, really doesn’t give a damn about the opinion of people in our community.

The request to the District Government by MAHC was for $114 million for “future hospital funding to build a major asset we don’t have right now”. (NOTE: One asset, not two.) I am told that one of the presenters on behalf of MAHC actually let it slip that the money was for a new hospital.

What is equally disturbing about this is that MAHC has been assuring the public that the Capital Planning Task Force, appointed by them, has a clear mandate to consider all options for hospital care in Muskoka and that it will consult closely with the public before making a recommendation to the Board.

So what is really going on here? On the one hand, MAHC is asking the District of Muskoka for money to build a new hospital and on the other they are saying that all options are on the table including the two existing acute care hospitals. And here, my friends, is where I smell a conspiracy.

In talking recently to a number of people who, over the past several years, have been closely following the hospital debacle, I am beginning to believe that a strategy exists that will meet with the original objective of MAHC for a single site hospital and that it could well end up in Bracebridge. The scenario goes like this.

This fall, the Capital Plan Development Task Force will complete their work and recommend to the MAHC Board that there be two hospital sites in Muskoka, one in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville. So far so good, right? MAHC has listened to the public and supposedly reversed their decision for a single site hospital. However, as became obvious in the survey conducted by the Task Force, the two sites would not be “status quo”, that is they would offer different services. This option is much like the one recommended by an earlier committee for two hospital sites, Site A being acute care and Site B being ambulatory and long-term care. That is step one.

Step two will be to decide where the more acute care services such a surgery will be provided and, especially given the makeup of the current Board, my guess would be that the coin toss will go to Bracebridge. The argument will be that with a brand new, long-term care facility (Fairvern) built on the Huntsville Hospital property, Huntsville is the perfect candidate for site B.

And now for step three. An argument will be made that the current Bracebridge hospital site cannot be properly renovated and updated because it is landlocked. And guess what? The Town of Bracebridge has generously optioned a piece of land in the south end of its municipality to build a brand-new hospital. What a coincidence!

The result of all of 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 MAHC when asking for funds from the District. Most of the District funds will go to the Bracebridge site. There will be little money left over to renovate the Huntsville site and, sooner rather than later, most if not all acute care hospital services will be centred in Bracebridge. It will become the single-site hospital in Muskoka. It may have happened through the back door, but there it is.

Nothing more than a conspiracy theory you say? Maybe. Too Machiavellian to be true? Perhaps. But I wonder. All of the elements stated above exist. In addition, the Chair of the MAHC Board is a strong advocate of One Muskoka, with all that entails. The Vice Chair, who will likely be the next Chair, is from Bracebridge and he has not been shy about expressing his bias in that direction. MAHC has clearly shown its hand in favour of a single-site hospital. They have also approached District Council for funding for a new hospital. Under those circumstances, the only possible reason for continuing the mandate of their Capital Plan Development Task Force is to appear to be listening to the public, when in reality they are not and, in fact, don’t have to. The general public cannot vote at an annual meeting of the Hospital. “Members” of the hospital corporation are the Board of Directors and a selected few past Board members. When it comes to selecting new Board members, that is done by the “members”. Effectively, the Board appoints itself and acts as its own membership. It is an incestuous process. There is no accountability. As one former Board member said, “It is no way to run a public body that should be accountable to the community.” Meanwhile however, the rest of us are completely shut out.

It is time, in my view, that Huntsville develops its own scenario and quickly at that. We have a great deal to offer and if a new hospital site is really in the works, Huntsville should fight like hell for it. With new hospital facilities planned for Orillia, we are the best situated, located mid-point between there and North Bay, for a regional or semi-regional facility. If we sit quietly in the belief that the current process is fair, with no agendas and no back-room strategy in place, my great fear is that we will wake up one day and it will be too late.

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39 Comments

    • MAHC is a business, that deals in health care. It is a private business run by self appointed directors , supplied with funds by the public, with no outside oversite or control. Until we get elected (public) members on the board they will be allowed to dictate what ever THEY want regarding new hospital facilities in Muskoka/Parry Sound. The past two years have been a waste of time because nothing has changed.

  1. Hugh, I can’t agree more. It may not be a conspiracy, but there seems to be a very Bracebridge bias. How can we change this rush to the lowest common denominator?

    • This Hospital is not for US, we will all be gone in 15 years, this is for our children and grandchildren.
      Let’s think for a moment why halfway to Huntsville is a better site. In a few years, Orillia will be the size of Barrie, so the need to be further north makes more sense.
      Robotic surgery is just around the corner, therefore a new state of the art Hospital is a must.
      Last item to be considered- Nursing Stations – Let’s keep our hospital emergency department for “emergencies”

  2. This is a death sentence for emergencies where time is of the essence. Add winter weather, could be hours to get to a hospital. We need to know how to protect our hospital.

  3. I absolutely believe that the board intends to build in Bracebridge. The board should have an open voting system no different than any other community system otherwise we get ‘nepotism’ or cronyism! This means the board becomes closed minded to any new ideas or suggestions and could plot some ill advised plan that could benefit them or their friends, although I’m sure efforts would be made to make it look like benefiting their community but not all of Muskoka.
    It only makes logical sense to place the surgical/OB hospital midway between North Bay and Orillia.

  4. John Rivière-Anderson on

    Michael Enright’s CBC (February 4, 2018, 8-9 am) Sunday Edition guest, Henry Mintzberg, author of Managing the Risks of Health Care, and world-recognised guru of the economics of the same, decries the myths of so-called economies of large scale and amalgamated facilities, and of the implementation of health care by (government) health care managers and “leaders”. Mintzberg repudiates decisions based on facile costs analysis alone, and proves that the more difficult determination of local benefits delivers the best health care for patients, who should never be considered as clients, but always as people. Mintzberg’s book is a must-read for all involved in health care and hospital planning in Muskoka.

    • I have proof that larger is not better. A number of yeas ago I had Aorta replaced . As a result my left lung was collapsed.
      So I needed Lung Capacity test. In Hamilton General Hospital I was In a wheelchair for 6 hours on the main floor. No body stopped to ask “what are you here for” At the time I was not able to speak out loud. could not ask for help. Eventually the department was closed and i was taken back Step Down rd

  5. Bracebridge makes the most sense geographically it’s pretty much dead Center of muskoka unfortunately for Huntsville this is the sad truth if you look at the borders it needs to cover an area as far south as Severn bridge to just north of Huntsville therefore Huntsville simply doesn’t make any sense

    • Totally disagree. The hospital catchment area is further north of Huntsville than Novar! Thousands of East Parry Sound residents use the Huntsville facility every year plus the tourist influx every summer! For Emergency Services the Huntsville Hospital site is the closest available emergency site to arrive at. Any hospital located anymore south than Huntsville would be foolish and harmful to our residents!

    • That’s not True. My family is in Burks Falls. If there was no Huntsville Hospital we would have to travel an hour to either Bracebridge or North Bay. If this happens I can imagine may more people will die on route to hospital and many babies will be born in vecihles. This is sad and so unfair.

  6. Sorry, Mr. Speller, I disagree! I think Huntsville is by far the better choice based on the access to all points of the compass on any map of the area.
    Huntsville is set to grow its population due to expansion of year round facilities. There is more open land that lends itself well to development.. than Bracebridge.
    I think what really gets locals ticked is the sheer arrogance of the inept bosses of the MAHC as evidenced by the stupid “Lip Service” given to us in the form of two costly opinion polls. I would like for someone to interview Mr. Miller and see if we can’t get him to help push for changes to the local Board structure.

  7. As this dialogue continues to what extent is there consideration by the people of Muskoka of the medical needs and opinions of the thousands of people from the Burk’s Falls to Novar part of Parry Sound District who use Huntsville for their hospital services and other medical needs (dental, optometry, pharmaceutical etc.)?

    • Sundridge residents also use the Huntsville Hospital and I for one would be very disappointed and upset. Huntsville is my go to for all procedures etc. and I find the doctors, nurses and staff excellent. North Bay and the possibility of a new Bracebridge hospital are just too great a distance for critical cases.

  8. For some reason the board forgets about the number of visitors to Algonquin Park in the summer and the number of accidents involved. Bracebridge is too far to take hurt visitors from the Algonquin Park area only Huntsville can handle that population when it comes. There have been enough car accident in the park but just imagine an actual bus accident there is no way that the injured could get to Bracebridge in a reasonable time. Not something we like to think about but we have to be ready for, with the number of visitors Algonquin receives.

  9. Bingo!

    Hugh, thank-you for articulating this so well.

    It is exactly what is happening.

    We need to de-amalgamate and go our own way.

    I am not opposed to a new facility but I do think it needs to be in Huntsville and that will not happen under the current system for many reasons: the composition of the board, the LHIN boundaries, the lack of a voting membership of the corporation which includes the public, the amalgamated administration, the provincial funding formula, government disinterest in putting resources into more sparsely populated northern regions (not many votes to be had there)

  10. Over the years, it has been painful to watch the slow but sure erosion of our Hospital.
    Years ago, I believe the Ontario Government should have listened to the CEO of the time, Vaughn Adamson who suggested the LHIN line should be Main Street South River, not Boundry Road, Novar. Huntsville Hospital serves patients in our northern communities including 1/2 of South River, Sundridge, Magnetawan, Burks Falls, Katrine, Sprucedale, Emsdale, Kearney and Novar. Algonquin Park to Rosseau is also included.

    If the Hospital is placed in Bracebridge, this would be a crime!
    Bracebridge may be the center of Muskoka, but the government included a much larger catchment area than just Muskoka.

    Thousands of people will be disadvantaged is this is allowed to occur!

    I am appalled by the audacity if the Hospital Board feels they can fool the general public into believing they are being listened to.

    GET LOUD people. This is our future! Our children’s future! Our communities’ future!

    Scott Aitchison- you need to get louder than anyone to protect your constituents!

    Reeves of our northern communities need to get loudest!

    Wake up people. Don’t let this happen.

    • Totally agree. I so wish Vaughn was back as CEO, then this would not be happening! We need local insight here not people who have no idea what rural hospitals mean to the people who have lived here all their lives.

  11. Gladys Middlebrook on

    Finally someone is telling the truth! Thank you.
    Huntsville is the obvious site if they go to one Hospital. The building was built with the option of going higher, the property is there, and as stated, it is mid-point between North Bay and Orillia. We need to step up and be heard!

  12. Phyllis Winnington-Ingram on

    I wish to share that I find the above piece focused on the wrong issue as citizens from southern Muskoka equally feel that a new ‘one hospital’ would be located either in Port Sydney or Huntsville. If Bracebridge and Huntsville get pitted against one another, we both lose. Based on MAHC’s own survey, over 80% of residents want to continue with our two current hospitals, that include acute emergency services. There are a number of strong, talented people, from both northern and southern Muskoka, working tirelessly and collaboratively on this issue. They are reviewing MAHC data, attending meetings, preparing presentations, and consulting with areas with geographic similarities that have been able to retain their smaller rural hospitals. Our municipal leaders are diligently working with provincial health leaders to change the disastrous funding model that has negatively impacted many medium-sized hospitals, as well as working collaboratively to ensure that both communities retain their hospitals. Again, if we (Huntsville and Bracebridge especially), become pitted against one another, there is a significantly higher chance we may both lose and end up with a one-hospital site that is in neither urban setting (i.e. Port Sydney or somewhere along Hwy 11 but not directly in one of the towns). Let’s be smart and work together to ensure that the promise made by MAHC in 2005 is kept…’by amalgamating the hospital administrations we would retain our local facilities.’ We know that promise wasn’t honoured in Burk’s Falls…so it is important that we stay positive, vigilant and focused to ensure that this doesn’t happen to either of our local hospitals. STAY STRONG…STAY POSITIVE…LET’S WORK TOGETHER

  13. No matter how you look at it, the two hospital plan is the best for all of the communities that both hospitals serve. To do otherwise would be disastrous for the people in Muskoka. This is not about ‘one upmanship’, this is about people’s lives.

    • Verna Rickward on

      We need a hospital in Huntsville people from the north will die trying to get to hospital in time
      Please leave one in Huntsville.

  14. Christine Rivière-Anderson on

    Would raising our taxes in Huntsville be the solution to keeping our hospital in sitiu?
    I would be willing to do that and I bet others would too, provided we get total transparency regarding the costs involved and the municipality’s needed contribution.
    This could start another debate but I am a firm believer that we need to think locally now, if we want to maintain some control over our services, be they medical or otherwise.

  15. Good morning Hugh, thank you for your commentary of this week on Doppler. As a former MAHC director and career healthcare services executive I could not agree more with the information and thoughts that you shared in your commentary. It seems very apparent that over the past 7 or 8 years MAHC has consistently ignored the input and wishes with respect to the delivery of acute care hospital services from the community that they serve. The nature of MAHCs governance model and the significant personal bias that key board members bring to the board processes and decision making are not an acceptable standard in representing their obligations to their community.
    This most recent District request for $114M in capital funding not only has tipped their hand with respect to their preferred decision but flies in the face of pragmatically being the stewards of improving acute care services delivery, reducing patient risk and being fiscally responsible.
    Most disturbing, it is entirely possible that the decisions will be be made before Huntsville community leaders wake up to the reality that is evolving quickly. Please continue pressing MAHCs accountability and in informing our community. You are not alone in this mission

  16. Russell Nicholls on

    I read with great interest the games that MAHC are playing! Most frustrating to say the least! I know there are those who will say let Norm Miller, Muskoka’s fair haired boy look into the situation! That is fine but, don’t forget that that say voice to our Provincial Healthcare system also lives in the Bracebridge area. There is a saying that “blood runs thicker than water”. What do you think Huntsville’s chances would be, going that route?

    I received word yesterday morning from NEORN Passenger Rail Advocary Group in North Bay who have been lobbying intensively to get the Ontario Northland passenger train back in service again. Well finally we got word that all three provincial governments have given us their assurance that the train will going back on track,hopefully this summer!

    My point is , let’s show Mr Miller someone else may be able to intervene on behalf of our Huntsville Hospital. It has worked for the Northlander , it might just work for our Huntsville Hospital. It’s what goes into the ballet box that makes the dffferance. They call this politics!!!

    • Right on Russ! Maybe I’d better butt out asking Norm to jump in ! Years ago, every “Board” had to be voted into their job at the Ballot Box. Remember the P.U.C. ? My thought is that elected ‘Officials” listen to the people, appointed ones means they know all the right people. But, let’s not be too harsh when speaking about MAHC, Ms. Bubela got onside with the Huntsville branch of her bailiwick taking the time to explain why the ER may have longer wait times because new flooring is being installed! Wow! Chief Executive Office, no less! In the latest comments about all this, there have ben a couple of queries as to just how we go about getting better organized to stop the process of losing our Huntsville Hospital. I’d suggest changing the Leadership of this Province and restructure the present MAHC!

  17. Frances Botham on

    Of course it defies all logic to have the main hospital in Bracebridge. A fully functional hospital is needed and necessary in Huntsville. The building was designed for tiering up. And yes, the building certainly looks sound from a visual perspective. So why is “build new” almost like a mantra? This has turned into a merry-go-round of verbage. Where is the strong stand of the District Council representatives from Huntsville? Is anyone questioning this? Is there a committee/delegation of all the highly informed past (and present) chair persons and personnel of the Huntsville Hospital as well as medical people representing a broad spectrum to move forward representing the town? Then we would ask this body of representatives what can we do. Do you need petitions? What is the next step?

  18. Yep. And here we go again!
    In this area we used to have three hospitals. These consisted of Burks Falls, Huntsville, and Bracebridge. The Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare shut down the Burks Falls hospital due to funding. They however forgot about the people who lived in the area now having to travel over a half an hour to get to a hospital. Now skip forward to the future and we only have two hospitals Huntsville and Bracebridge.
    Now the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare wants to shut down one of these hospitals because they are not profitable and making their money they want. In my view it is time to disband the board that is making well over $100,000 a year paychecks and start thinking about little people who live in the area that desperately need these hospitals. We don’t need high-paid executives, what we need is hospitals. Also in the future we need more nursing homes as stated Fairvern it’s getting too small for the needs of the area. We also need a dedicated area in these hospitals for children. I don’t know what Bracebridge had, but in the Huntsville Hospital they used to have two dedicated rooms for children’s only and a playroom across the hall. Thank you to Hugh McKenzie for this update. If we lose the Hospital in Huntsville people from Burks Falls, Emsdale, Sprucedale,Novar, and other areas north will lose quick access to the hospital needs we so rightfully deserve.

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