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Physicians express concerns with proposed hospital plan

Some physicians believe patient care will suffer – specifically in South Muskoka – if Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) goes forward with its proposed hospital redevelopment plan. 

Dr. Scott Whynot, staff physician with MAHC, was one of the handful of medical professionals who signed a letter outlining why they’re against what’s being put forward. 

“We’ve been operating under a model that would see two fully functioning acute care hospitals built in Muskoka,” explains Whynot. 

That was the plan this time last year, however, Cheryl Harrison, president and chief executive officer for MAHC, detailed in Gravenhurst on Jan. 31 that they learned from the Ministry of Health in Oct. 2023 that their proposal was 50 percent over budget and needed to be reworked so they came up with what they call the “Made-in-Muskoka healthcare system.” 

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Whynot says physicians found out about the new plan towards the end of Nov., adding it “came out of the blue.” 

While he understands there are financial pressures on MAHC, he believes what they’re proposing now doesn’t support the area’s growing population. 

Under the proposed plan, the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital (HDMH) will have 139 acute care beds for longer stays while the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital (SMMH) at 300 Pine St. in Bracebridge will have 14 beds for shorter stays.

Harrison said they were directed by the provincial officials to not duplicate services, which is what spurred them to create the new model.

Both hospital sites will have a 24/7 emergency department. 

Whynot argues that the hospital in Bracebridge is frequently over-capacity now so having fewer beds for patient care could make it difficult to uphold a high standard of care. 

“If we don’t have the capacity to take care of people in our hospital that means they’ll have to go somewhere else,” says Whynot. “And when they go somewhere else there’s a lot of concerns with care associated with that. Transferring patients is known in the scientific literature to be associated with increased mortality, higher length of stay in the hospital, and delays in surgical intervention.” 

Dr. Rohit Gupta, general surgeon with MAHC, adds transportation is another big issue that he doesn’t believe has been adequately addressed. 

He says it’s not practical for him to travel between his office in Bracebridge and the hospital in Huntsville. “When I get back here, I have no access to the patient in Huntsville,” he says. 

Gupta believes the lack of “continuation of care” will be difficult for many physicians to handle and on top of that, it may be difficult for some, especially seniors, to travel up and down Hwy. 11 to get to appointments. 

Diane George, vice president of integrated care, patient services, and quality, told the assembled crowd at the Huntsville meeting they’re working on multiple partnerships. She noted the District of Muskoka is working on improving transportation in the area. 

Gupta was part of the discussion in 2015 when a one-site hospital model was proposed but after pushback from the community and Ministry of Health approval, MAHC moved forward with the two-site model. 

Gupta says some people feel “deceived, not taken care of, and dejected.” 

He believes this could lead to MAHC revisiting the one-hospital model. However, Harrison has said during the community chats they have no plans to reduce services in Bracebridge beyond what’s currently being proposed. 

“Our contention is you’re playing with the lives of patients at the cost of budget,” says Gupta. “That is something which I’m not able to understand.” 

After the public meeting in Gravenhurst, Harrison said “we’re on the schedule,” referencing Infrastructure Ontario latest update, adding they don’t have time to wait. 

Whynot believes some specialists will move out of South Muskoka. 

“Why would they stay here,” he asks. Whynot says the travel time for physicians will be difficult to handle. While he doesn’t expect them to leave en masse, Whynot thinks the “ripple effect” from the plan will make it difficult for MAHC to recruit new doctors to set up their practice in South Muskoka. 

Gupta says they want Huntsville to have a good hospital, too. 

“We don’t want to pit communities against each other,” he says. “All the physicians who signed the letter want is for both communities to have equal care.” 

Two more community chats are scheduled by MAHC to discuss the proposed plan, including one in Bracebridge on Tuesday night. 

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