At their regular meeting held yesterday, the board of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare unanimously accepted the recommendation of a task force that has concluded a new hospital for Bracebridge and a new hospital for Huntsville is the best way forward.
The recommendation by the Capital Plan Development Task Force, which has been studying the issue for the past 25 months with the help of consultants and a local share working group formed to determine the contribution that would be required from the local communities, is recommending a new build on new land for the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital and a new build on existing lands for the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital.
You can find the task force’s report here.
Recently, Huntsville and District Councillor Tim Withey expressed alarm with the task force’s recommendation. He told Huntsville councillors that building two new facilities would be cost-prohibitive and doomed for failure when submitted to the Ministry of Health for approval.
But Huntsville Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano, who attended the MAHC board meeting, said questions surrounding the option of renovating versus building new hospitals were asked. “Ironically enough, if you look at the documentation, the cost to renovate Bracebridge is actually more than the cost to build new. And the cost to build new in Huntsville versus renovation is only about $10 million more—and I don’t say that lightly because $10 million is a lot of money but when you’re looking at $295 million versus $286 million, it’s not a big difference,” she noted.
She said the consultant outlined very convincingly how difficult renovations in the healthcare sector can be. “You have to separate obviously the medical site where there are patients and people working from the reno, and that’s very costly to do and it’s also very disruptive to people who are in hospital for reasons of healing.”
Terziano also noted that there are new parameters around the type of patient rooms required, and regulations surrounding attempts at infection control, that didn’t exist when the hospitals were first built. “This is not Huntsville and Bracebidge coming out with this; this is the Ministry of Health guidelines.”
She said the majority of community members were clear during public consultations when they said they would not support just one hospital for the entire area. “So that message was finally heard loud and clear and it took a while to hear it.”
She said given that the difference between renovating and building new is not that significant in Huntsville and that there are land constraints in Bracebridge, to say one community can have a new hospital and the other can’t is also problematic.
“Who would’ve supported ‘well let’s build one new hospital in Bracebridge and just renovate one in Huntsville?’ So I’m not sure what alternative people were looking for,” she added.
“Everybody realizes that it’s expensive, that’s what hospitals are,” said Terziano. She added that it was noted at the meeting that while the local share for both hospitals was estimated at $129 million, that number would be reduced by existing assets of about $35 million and both hospital foundations have committed to $20 million between them, “so that takes the local share down to $74 million… and if that number did come from the tax base then that’s basically $80 per household per year for 15 years and that’s the time it would take you to save up enough to contribute to the local share.”
She said efforts to lobby the Ministry of Health to reduce the required local share are ongoing. “There are still people working on how we’re going to finance this and until the Ministry says ‘yeah we’re going to do it’, you’re probably not going to start raising any money for it.”
The recommendation is now expected to be forwarded to the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network as well as the Ministry of Health for consideration.
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