In an historic joint council meeting held in a packed Algonquin Theatre on the evening of Monday, February 1, Huntsville and Bracebridge municipal representatives voted unanimously in favour of pursuing a two-hospital model for Muskoka.
“This is a remarkable occasion. I can’t recall a joint meeting between the two councils,” said Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith, who thanked Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison for hosting him and his council “for such an important issue to both communities and the greater Muskoka and East Parry Sound communities as well.”
How it happened
The move comes as a direct response to a May 27, 2015 recommendation announced by the board of Muskoka Algonquin Health Care, which manages both the Bracebridge and Huntsville hospitals. MAHC has been struggling with funding shortfalls and aging infrastructure for years. Its recommendation calls for the closure of both hospitals in favour of a single acute care hospital centrally located between the two communities. But that recommendation has raised concerns among community members and politicians alike. Paramount among their concerns is the travel time required to access timely life-saving health care, access for vulnerable populations and those living in more remote areas as well as the socio-economic ramifications of losing a hospital in any one given community. Other concerns include the additional costs that would be incurred by the municipal sector in order to support the infrastructure required for a new hospital site as well as the cost of building a new hospital from the ground up. Those concerns were brought to the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network, which reports to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. In response, the LHIN established a taskforce made up of its own members, MAHC and municipal representatives to facilitate an analysis of how MAHC arrived at its preferred single hospital model and whether other viable options could be considered that would garner greater community consensus.
What’s the plan
With the help of a Huntsville hospital working group, consultants, and staff at the District of Muskoka, Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison and Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith joined forces and presented an alternative on Monday night. That alternative calls for redeveloping the existing two hospital sites and maintaining 24/7 emergency rooms at both hospitals including inpatient beds to support emergency admissions and core diagnostic services.
One of the sites would focus on acute care services and conduct the bulk of surgical procedures with advanced diagnostic imaging services. It would include a family birthing unit for low to medium risk obstetrics as well as emergency endoscopy services among others. The other site would focus on chronic care, contain all complex continuing care beds and offer select day surgery for things such as cataracts. The proposal calls on both sites to serve as health hubs with the co-location of related health care services.
Who gets what?
A determination as to which site will provide which services has not been made. In a press conference following the presentation, Aitchison said MAHC should very much be involved in making that decision. He said both sites would offer “tremendous services” along with 24/7 emergency rooms. “In the absence of us making this move, you might have to go to Barrie or you might have to go to North Bay. I would much rather drive to Bracebridge for certain services or Huntsville for certain services than having to drive all the way to Barrie or North Bay or Orillia.”
It terms of getting MAHC on board, Aitchison noted that the Ministry of Health requires broad-based community support in order to come to a decision.
When Mayor Smith and I went and presented to the LHIN board meeting back in the fall, it was pretty clear at that point that the broad-based community support was not there,” said Aitchison. “I think there’s a lot of merit in the proposal that we put forward and with some further analysis I think that we can demonstrate to MAHC that this is a really workable solution that supports both communities and delivers better patient outcomes at the end of the day for all Muskoka, East Parry Sound into Algonquin Park and all around the surrounding area.
Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison
Smith said there’s more work ahead; he said he looks forward to working with MAHC, the LHIN and other stakeholders realizing that change is difficult but necessary. He also said that no matter the outcome the municipalities would continue supporting MAHC.
Now that the mayors have support from their councils they’ll be presenting the two-site model to the LHIN.