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‘We want to get this right:’ second hospital project meeting held in Bracebridge

While the gymnasium at Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School wasn’t full, some of those who did attend had pointed questions about Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s (MAHC) “Made-in-Muskoka healthcare system” proposal. 

There was also a Zoom meeting, which MAHC officials said was watched by 534 unique attendees. 

The presentation she gave was similar to the one shown last week in Bracebridge but changes were made to highlight some of the common questions from previous community chats. 

She pointed out both sites will have heliports and that renovating the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital (HDMH) or the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital (SMMH) in Bracebridge would be “highly, highly disruptive” and would cost an “outrageous amount.” 

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Harrison discussed what could happen if the project doesn’t move forward. “There are big risks of not moving forward without some sort of model,” she said. 

She suggested some low-volume programs and services could close, the hospitals would continue to deal with overcrowding, the aging buildings would deteriorate, the possibility of construction costs could continue to rise, and MAHC could potentially lose its place in Infrastructure Ontario’s queue. 

Alasdair Smith, vice president of corporate services and chief financial officer, said the status quo model that was previously on the table was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained that it created a “difficult financial situation” and put the proposal 50 percent over the nearly $1 billion budget set for it. 

He said they heard loud and clear from the Ministry of Health and Infrastructure Ontario that whatever model is proposed must not duplicate services. 

“We want to get this right,” said Cheryl Harrison, president and chief executive officer of MAHC, towards the end of her 30-minute presentation. 

A long lineup was formed for the question-and-answer period after the presentation ended. 

One of the first to speak was Katie Peleikis, a former ambulance dispatcher, who asked what MAHC’s transportation plan is. 

She explained that off-load delay is when paramedics are waiting in an emergency department to help transfer a patient, which means they’re unable to respond to other calls. 

Jeff McWilliam, chief of paramedic services for the District of Muskoka, confirms Muskoka Paramedic Services (MPS) deploys eight ambulances during the day and seven at night. Between June and the end of Sept. every year, an additional ambulance is added during the day.  

Peleikis asked Harrison and her five colleagues on stage with her to “not make this situation harder than it already is,” pointing out both hospitals are consistently over-capacity. 

Melissa Bilodeau, director of nursing, clinical services, and chief nursing executive, said “we’re working on it.” 

She told the assembled crowd they have had conversations with MPS about expanding services. Bilodeau added that site-to-site transfer for stable patients will not be done by MPS but may be done similarly to what Quinte Healthcare does. She said they plan to discuss how Quinte has implemented the program to see if it’s viable for MAHC. 

Multiple questions were asked about obstetrical services (childbirth) being focused in Huntsville, including the potential liability involved in a doctor not being with a birthing mother for her entire hospital stay. 

Dr. Khaled Abdel-Razek, chief of staff for MAHC, said discussions are ongoing to ensure both sites will have emergency obstetrical care. 

He cited a statistic that an average of 300 births happen a year between the two hospitals with around 200 happening in Huntsville. Abdel-Razek said the “vast majority” of birthing units with less than 100 a year are consolidated because of risks associated with quality of care. 

During Harrison’s presentation, she said Muskoka has an aging population so concentrating childbirth services in Huntsville potentially allows them to support recruitment. She said it may be hard to bring in specialists, like for obstetrics, when they only focus on what they trained to do a fraction of the time. 

“We’ve heard lots of feedback and we’re going to continue to listen to the feedback,” said Harrison. 

She said the dates shown for the project are just targets and not set in stone. Harrison added it’s possible they could adjust the timeline if needed. “We’re just at the start of this journey,” she said. 

The meeting on Monday night in Bracebridge was added after many were unable to get in during last week’s community chat. It was the seventh in-person meeting by MAHC. The organization also held two virtual gatherings to discuss its proposed hospital redevelopment plan. 

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