The Politics of Fear
I do not often write about the same subject two weeks in a row, but this week I am making an exception.
There has been a great deal of talk over the past few weeks about the recommendation of the Task Force appointed by Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC) which would see the eventual construction of two new hospitals in the District, one in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville. Many, but not all of these comments have been negative and most of those were based on information that, to put it as politely as possible, was inflammatory, scare mongering and not completely accurate.
We heard that the recommendations of the Task Force, if implemented, would result in crushing costs of over $200 million to people in Muskoka, that property tax rates would go sky-high, that the Provincial Government would never deliver on the proposal, that the recommendation for two new sites, now approved unanimously by the MAHC Board, was nothing more than a tactic by them to lure Huntsville into complacency while a new hospital was built only in Bracebridge, leaving North Muskoka in the lurch. And so on.
- Renovation and needed expansion for the Bracebridge hospital would cost $285,973,400.
- A new hospital site on new land in Bracebridge would cost $284,242,100.
- Renovation and needed expansion for the Huntsville hospital would cost $284,149,000
- Hospital replacement on current land in Huntsville would cost $295,889,600.
- Based on the Ministry of Health formula, the total local share for two new hospitals is $129 million.
- Current MAHC assets plus hospital Foundation fundraising would reduce the local requirement by $55 million to $74 million.
Here is the important part.
- The remaining requirement for local taxpayers to shoulder is projected at $74,000,000.
- The proposal is to raise this money, through a special levy over a defined period of fifteen years at a projected cost of $80 to $100 per year, per household in Muskoka.
Now, $80 to $100 a year per household, is not chicken feed. To some it would be a hardship. But to me at least, it does put the question of affordability into a more reasonable perspective. It is also important to note that these numbers are not a bunch of fly-by-night calculations, thrown around by a group of people with no relative experience. The Task Force itself was made up primarily of Muskoka people with various expertise in areas of health care. There were blessedly few politicians. The Task force was also guided by consultants that had the confidence of the Ministry of Health and have a recognized expertise in estimating capital costs when it comes to hospital care. These people are not amateurs. They do know what they are talking about.
Second, the minute there is a more up to date, more technically advanced hospital in Bracebridge than there is in Huntsville, acute care services will begin to fall like dominos to South Muskoka. As I have said many times before, the number one priority in keeping two acute care hospitals in Muskoka, is to ensure that neither site is subordinate to the other. While renovation of the Huntsville hospital may be slightly less expensive, it will not keep us competitive and would make it more difficult to keep pace with the requirements and technology of an acute care facility over the next 50 years.
One argument I have heard more than once in recent days is that Huntsville does not need a new hospital. It is a fair comment, but here, in my view, is the reality. First, if two hospitals remain in Muskoka it is next to inevitable that Bracebridge will get a new one. I have spent most of a lifetime involved in Muskoka politics, both from a business and an elected perspective. I know how effective Bracebridge has been in looking after what they consider to be their own interests. In this instance, they have again laid the groundwork, they have the clout and the connections, and they also have a substantive case to make for a new location. They will get a new hospital.
Now that MAHC has finally adopted an official position of equality between the two hospitals in Muskoka, I continue to believe that it is better to work with them, rather than against them. We are much better off on the inside, protecting our interests, than we would be fighting a proposal that will ultimately give us what we have been asking for.
We need to be at the table for a number of reasons. Whatever the final outcome of the proposal that MAHC has endorsed, it is important to ensure that both South and North Muskoka are treated equally. It is also important to be there to resist any temptation to build one new hospital at a time. Under those circumstances, the chances of a second one following, would be in serious jeopardy. We also need to be there, to ensure that acute services do not leak away from our hospital during the interim period. Further, we do not want to give the MAHC Board any excuse to depart from or water down their present commitment of equality between the two hospitals in Muskoka.
There is nothing to be gained by being frightened by the proposal that has been adopted by Muskoka Algonquin Health Care. There is potentially, much to lose by starting a war. There will always be sceptics, there will always be problems, and there are miles to go before a firm direction for future hospital care in Muskoka is cast in stone. But, as long as there is a commitment to equality between North and South Muskoka, we can do better by working together.
I have had enough of the politics of fear simply by following the federal election. We do not need them here in Huntsville.
You may also be interested in reading Terziano in support of task force’s recommendation of two new hospitals and MAHC Board endorses recommendation for two new hospital builds.
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