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Muskoka’s two new hospitals need local share of funding by June

It will be a race against time to redevelop Muskoka’s two hospitals.

According to Moreen Miller, Chair of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC)’s board, the organization has until around June to come up with a plan for how they will get the 20 to 30 per cent local share of the project – which was estimated at roughly $74 million in September.

“If I can be blunt, we need the money, and the local share is a critically big, important piece of this,” says Miller. “We really need the local council to get behind the build and to encourage those that are in the user groups to help us build the hospitals that we, in Huntsville, in Bracebridge, in Muskoka, need.”

She says to date, the project has received around $115,000 from Huntsville, $230,000 from Bracebridge, and $ 1.6 million from the District of Muskoka. In April, the province provided the first $14-million of its share for planning efforts.

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Miller, alongside MAHC President and CEO Cheryl Harrison, presented updates to the town councils of Huntsville and Bracebridge on Dec. 12 and 14, respectively.

According to Harrison, the Huntsville Hospital and Bracebridge Hospital are well behind on best practices for health care, with aging infrastructure and no more space for renovations. 

Harrison says provincial standards dictate 80 per cent of hospital rooms in Ontario should be private, for better infection control and patient privacy. MAHC is currently at around 15 per cent– something she says has caused significant problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You read about hallway medicine in Ontario. A patient shouldn’t have to wait on a stretcher for six hours or more before they can be admitted to a hospital,” says Harrison. “Ideally, we should be running our occupancy anywhere between 85 and 90 per cent, and we consistently over 100 per cent. Last week, we were at 130 per cent on one given day.”

Harrison says the redevelopment would add upwards of 60 new hospital beds across the two sites, as well as modernize both patient and staff areas. 

The project is currently in its third stage of 10, which will finish in September 2023 when detailed plans are submitted to the Ministry of Health. Miller adds the earliest shovels could go into the ground is about five years from now.

While the new Huntsville hospital will be built at 100 Frank Miller Dr., which is the same land the current hospital is on, it’s not known yet where the Bracebridge hospital will be built. Land for the Bracebridge site would need to be at least 40 acres.

Miller told Bracebridge council on Dec. 14 that the land where the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital is too small. “It’s important to us that the future property is well suited and that all options are considered,” she said. 

The Town of Bracebridge entered into an agreement with Fowler Construction to purchase land off of Cedar Ln., near the J.D. Lang Activity Park. However, it would only be executed if MAHC deems the land as the preferred site for the future hospital, according to Stephen Rettie, Bracebridge’s Chief Administrative Officer. He adds it would also need to be approved by the Ministry of Health. 

The town has offered to purchase the 44.5 acres of land for $1.3 million. 

On the section of MAHC’s website dedicated to the new hospitals, they’re asking anyone with land that meets their requirements to email James DiPaolo from Urban Strategies by Dec. 19. 

Miller told Bracebridge council they plan on hosting a series of community open houses on the project, starting in January 2023.

Harrison and Miller will be making a similar presentation to Gravenhurst council on Dec. 20.

Written by Martin Halek and Mathew Reisler

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