I have taken to my blog to clarify and correct misinformation circulating in the community to foster a greater understanding of the COVID-19 assessment centre situation in Muskoka. I want to emphasize that the hospital’s core mandate is to provide emergency and acute care services at two hospital sites. Hospital operations have been significantly impacted during the COVID‐19 pandemic as has our staffing requirements. We must continue to ensure emergency and acute care services are protected and available and meet the communities’ needs in the pandemic while following provincial direction, and ensuring our staff and physicians are safe and supported. I want to thank the many community members who have shown tremendous support to their hospitals during these difficult and challenging times.
The fact is that MAHC has not been responsible for the operations of the COVID-19 assessment centres in Huntsville and Bracebridge since they opened on April 1, 2020. The Huntsville centre had been staffed and operated by the Algonquin Family Health Team and the Bracebridge centre had been staffed and operated by the Cottage Country Family Health Team. Unfortunately, the Family Health Teams were no longer able to provide this public health service in Huntsville due to their own operational challenges. As a result, they gave notice that they were closing the assessment centres effective August 28, 2020. This information was shared verbally during our regular political leader meeting and in writing on August 11, 2020.
MAHC has been a community partner supporting community testing alongside many providers since the beginning of the pandemic. We offered space on an interim basis for the Huntsville assessment centre to function in space that on April 1 was not being used by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) due to school closure. School has since resumed and this year’s Community Clerkship medical students have arrived in Muskoka so NOSM has reclaimed its space.
Given the Family Health Teams were closing the assessment centres, and in the absence of other willing and able parties, MAHC stepped up to provide this public health service in Muskoka on hospital property at the South Muskoka site as it had an appropriate standalone outbuilding that could be retrofitted.
As services paused at the beginning of the pandemic have ramped back up in the hospitals, and there is a requirement to physically distance, unfortunately there is not the extra standalone space nor health human resources (staffing) capacity to safely provide multiple assessment centres. This is not a decision driven by finances or cost. Our health human resource needs have increased exponentially through the pandemic and recruiting to Muskoka during these uncertain times has been difficult, without the added regional challenge of attainable affordable housing in Muskoka. The pandemic has required the hospital to expand staffing levels in certain areas, and as such the need for people to provide care and support to our patients during the pandemic has increased dramatically. This need for physical health human resources and the challenges to recruit are shared by countless hospitals across Ontario, as well as Long Term Care, and home and community care, let alone private enterprise in many different labour markets.
I recognize that access to testing is important and we hope that other community health care providers will also organize and support access to COVID-19 testing through the fall and winter. I also understand travel to MAHC’s assessment centre located in Bracebridge may be difficult for some people. Those who are challenged to attend MAHC’s assessment centre in Bracebridge can talk to us about options when they call to make their appointment. I would encourage people to consider their own individual options for transportation supports by reaching out to friends and family or regional transportation services, such as the Corridor 11 bus that stops at the South Muskoka site. I also remind people they can engage their family doctor or nurse practitioner who may also be able to take a COVID‐19 swab for their patients. While one centre is not proximal or convenient to all, MAHC must also balance the population needs of the south and west portions of the region we serve, which to date have not had an assessment centre in their backyard.
It is hoped all understand that MAHC did not close the assessment centres. MAHC stepped up to assume the responsibility for community testing, and due to reasons explained above, is only able to do so in one location in Bracebridge. There would not have been a COVID-19 testing in Muskoka after August 28, 2020 if MAHC hadn’t stepped forward to offer an assessment centre.
I am confident that through the carefully considered assessment centre venue on our property and the staffing model, MAHC is positioned to meet the regional need for testing efficiently while protecting our staff and hospital patients. With the resources we have, MAHC continues to do the very best we can to serve the thousands of residents and visitors across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On behalf of our staff, physicians and volunteers we thank you for your continued support.
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