By Sven Miglin
The next chapter in Muskoka’s ongoing hospital saga is about to unfold. In July the Ontario Government provided Muskoka Algonquin Health Care (MAHC) with $1 million to proceed with the development of its Capital Redevelopment Plan. In May 2015, MAHC had proposed redevelopment based on a single-site hospital located between Huntsville and Bracebridge. A MAHC-lead committee has been struck to oversee this most recent process, a process which requires the committee to revisit this single-site model.
I believe that MAHC’s current single-site model is seriously flawed and that we need to revisit the two-site hospital model.
A new single-site hospital would not open its doors for another 15 to 20 years. It’s absurd to believe we can forecast our healthcare requirements 20 years into the future. Equally, Muskoka shouldn’t have to wait 20 years to see meaningful change in the delivery of its acute care services. The two-site model calls for the redevelopment of the current two sites. This redevelopment can commence much sooner and be done incrementally and continuously over the next 20 years. This will allow re-development to adapt and change as it proceeds.
The current MAHC model calls for the new single hospital to be built in a field somewhere between Huntsville and Bracebridge. That would be a terrible location. The only supporting argument provided in the 2015 report, is that this location provides the most equal distribution of travel times for Muskoka and area residents. It fails to mention that compared to the two-site model, the single-site model increases the time required to get to an emergency department for close to 90 per cent of Muskoka and area residents. How is that better healthcare?
The catchment area for our Hospital isn’t just Muskoka. What about the residents to the north in East Parry Sound? What about the hundreds of thousands of people visiting Algonquin Park each year? Closing the Huntsville site would present these people with serious travel issues.
What about the huge cost of building new infrastructure (water & sewer, roads, hydro, gas, etc.)? What about the lack of supporting services (other healthcare providers, restaurants, hotels, etc.) close by? Besides being smack dab in the middle of Muskoka, what else does it offer?
Locating the single hospital in either of the two towns will eliminate these issues. The stark reality is that a single hospital will only be built in either Huntsville or Bracebridge. This would pit North Muskoka against South Muskoka. Without broad community support throughout Muskoka, the Ontario Government will back away and our redevelopment application will stall.
I appreciate that certain hospital services are best provided at one site. Our current two-site hospital already does this with numerous services singled sited. When appropriate, I’m sure others will follow suit. However single-siting acute care will mean that there is only one emergency department. I believe that would be a deadly mistake.
The argument has been made that a single-site would be more efficient and cost effective. This point of view looks only at hospital operating costs. What about the huge economic costs for the Town that loses its hospital?
Just as importantly, these hospital operational savings would not be realized for another 20 years. Muskoka can’t wait that long. Our hospital is experiencing major financial challenges right now. It is a mistake to base our redevelopment on a flawed funding formula that penalizes our two-site hospital. The more appropriate course of action is to modify the provincial funding formula to support the model that best serves Muskoka and area residents, which is a two-site hospital model.
I appreciate that there are numerous medical healthcare issues that need to be considered when weighting a single site hospital versus a two-site model. I leave those issues to be addressed by someone more qualified to do so.
A hospital is arguably the most important facility in any town. The health of our town depends on having a strong, viable hospital. It can be one of the largest employers in the town. It helps attract new businesses and is critical in retaining those already here. Individuals considering relocating to a town look at what healthcare services exist there, usually asking “Does it have a hospital?” A world-class tourist destination is expected to have the appropriate healthcare services available, one of which is a hospital.
However the most important reason for a town to have a hospital is that hospitals save lives. Hospitals make people healthier. Hospitals improve the overall health of the community they are located in.
I believe that the Committee needs to reconsider the previous decision to redevelop as a single site hospital. For all the reasons above and more it’s simply the wrong model. I believe they need to thoroughly evaluate the redevelopment of our two hospitals and adopt that as the model for Muskoka’s future. I intend to tell them this. What about you?
Sven Miglin was on the Board of Directors of MAHC for 6 years (2007 – 2013), two of which he was the Chair. In 2015 he was appointed to the Huntsville Hospital Retention Committee. In 2016 the NSM LHIN appointed him to the Executive Committee of MAHST (Muskoka and Area Health System Transformation) project.
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