Last Monday, the Huntsville Hospital Retention Committee presented their recommendations for hospital care in Muskoka to a joint meeting of the Bracebridge and Huntsville Councils. I was gobsmacked by what I heard came out of that meeting, first, because of what was proposed and second because it was approved unanimously by both Councils. I could only wonder how everyone got into the Kool-Aid!
Let me say at the outset, that with the exception of the few people I do not know, the majority of the members of the Retention Committee are friends of mine, folks of exceptional ability whom I highly respect. However, I am still shaking my head at what they have come up with and they will not like what I have to say about it.
In essence, when you cut through all the power point slides, the recommendation is for two campuses of care in Muskoka offering different services. One would be for acute care such as surgery and obstetrics. Call it site A. The other would be for ambulatory services such as chemotherapy and long term care. Call that site B. Although both hospitals would retain an Emergency Department, by definition, one of the two communities would lose their acute care hospital. There is no way to spin that inevitable result under this scenario.
Unless it is me that is drinking the Kool-Aid, I believe this is almost precisely the model that the Hospital Board (MAHC) was promoting when our entire community rallied with demonstrations and petitions last year, demanding acute care hospitals in both Bracebridge and Huntsville and totally rejecting the very model that was proposed by the Retention Committee last week. It is partly because of this community reaction that MAHC subsequently recommended a single site hospital in Muskoka, another contentious proposal.
Pessimist that I am, when it comes to this debacle I have no doubt that Site A will be situated in Bracebridge and Huntsville will become Site B, the ambulatory centre. The Hay Report, consultants recently retained by MAHC, have already recommended that surgery and obstetrics be centered in Bracebridge. I could hardly blame Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith if he has already marked out the site they have committed to buy for a new hospital to accommodate these expanded services. Huntsville will not get a new hospital.
If Huntsville loses its acute care hospital, it will have a devastating effect on our economy and our health care. Doctors and other professionals will gravitate toward the more active hospital centre. We would likely lose the Northern Ontario School of Medicine which came here only through enormous effort by Huntsville people including Dr. Roy Kirkpatrick and former Councillor Fran Coleman. Dr. David Mathies, a member of the Retention Committee, obviously did not agree with his colleagues either. In an interview with Doppler’s Tamara de la Vega, he laid out his concerns. You can see it by clicking here. Doctors in our community do not see it the way the Retention Committee sees it and they made that very clear to members of the Retention Committee at a meeting on Thursday night. Some expressed the view that if the Committee’s recommendations went through, there would be no hospital here in five years.
In my view, Huntsville has been cleverly and strategically snookered. Where are the two mayors who so publicly stood, practically holding hands, swearing that they would never agree to any proposal that did not provide for a fully acute care hospital in both communities? Remember that? After the meeting last Monday, Mayor Smith should have gathered his Council together for a champagne celebration. They stand to get everything they wanted. MAHC, as well, should be dancing in the aisle. They are effectively off the hook whether the eventual outcome is the first option they considered or their final proposal for a single-site hospital. The LHIN is also off the hook. All they wanted was a proposal that the communities in Muskoka could support. Huntsville and Bracebridge Councils have given them a free ride on that.
So what the hell happened? How did we come full circle to a proposal that has the potential of leaving Huntsville with a second-rate hospital? Perhaps it is because, in this particular instance, we have been too cozy with Bracebridge who, in my view, through this whole process, while saying all the politically correct things, have also quite rightly been protecting their own interests and doing so effectively. Huntsville on the other hand, had opted for a cooperative model, which I believe has backfired.
The original intent of the Huntsville Hospital Retention Committee was for them to prepare a proposal to the MAHC Site Committee for a single hospital in Muskoka that would protect the interests of Huntsville. Their mandate evolved to other options however, which is understandable, but the focus was intended to remain on Huntsville. I found it interesting however, that the consultant who was on hand on Monday night to assist the Chair of the Retention Committee in the presentation was the consultant from Bracebridge and not the one hired and paid for by Huntsville. I cannot help but wonder how that is in the best interest of our community?
Since Monday, I have felt somewhat alone in the wilderness in thinking that the proposal presented to the joint Council Meeting was a very bad deal for Huntsville. I was surprised at the mild audience reaction at the presentation and the complacent comments I have heard since. However, since Dr. Mathies has spoken out, others have too and I am told there are efforts underway to mobilize the community once again. We are going to need that.
One issue that has been dealt with through all of theses deliberations is what appears to be a reality that two fully equipped acute care hospitals in Muskoka cannot be financially supported and will never be approved. If that is indeed the reality, then I would support the concept of a single-site hospital equally accessible to all of Muskoka before I would support a proposal that would effectively subordinate one community to the other. We cannot allow that.