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‘None of this is carved in stone:” Hospital brass discuss next steps for redevelopment project

With the dust settled from the seven in-person and two virtual chats Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) held to discuss its “Made-in-Muskoka healthcare system,” senior management wants to “keep the momentum going.” 

Cheryl Harrison, president and chief executive officer, Moreen Miller, board chair, and Alasdair Smith, vice president of corporate services and chief financial officer, were on Muskoka Matters on YourTV on Feb. 19 to discuss where the proposal stands. 

The questions and comments made during the public meetings were mostly against what MAHC is currently proposing, however, Harrison appreciates that residents expressed their concerns. “I was very proud to stand up and share where we’re at in the redevelopment as well as to hear people’s feedback,” she continued. 

Miller said what’s currently proposed is not “carved in stone” and the feedback MAHC has heard will be taken into account, noting the Board of Directors hasn’t approved the plan yet nor has it been submitted to the Ministry of Health. 

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“I think it’s safe to say we would not have gone out to the public with the idea if we weren’t interested in hearing any other ideas,” she said. 

Over the next few weeks, Miller said they will be meeting with a handful of groups, many of whom they met with before community chats. One of the groups includes MAHC’s credentialed staff who will discuss the pros and cons of the proposal on Tuesday. 

Smith explained the meeting will include a “sharing of facts” with staff and management working through what can or can’t be changed and, in the case of the latter, what MAHC can do to potentially create a workaround. 

Smith called the hospital’s staff and their feedback “critically important” in forming whatever plan is approved.  

Harrison mentioned during her 30-minute presentation that kicked off each meeting that the “status quo” model MAHC was working towards as early as Sept. 2023, was 50 percent of the prescribed budget set. She explained that forced them to create a two-site model with a smaller footprint including, as directed by the province, less duplication of services. 

During the sit-down interview, Miller further explained that 2019 is “an eon ago” when it comes to healthcare thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, among other things, it caused prices for almost everything to skyrocket.

“I think the province finds themselves, as the MAHC board does, in a very complicated process of having a finite number of infrastructure dollars to replace the infrastructure that we’ve depended on for the last 50 years,” said Miller. 

With a plan to acquire the $225 million local share in place, Miller assures MAHC doesn’t plan to increase it. “We’ve been told consistently by our communities don’t exceed that local share number,” she said. 

Harrison said it’s key that MAHC and the province are on the same page. 

“I’ve been given some assurances that if we take a few months now to make sure we’re engaging and taking feedback that there are probably areas of the different segments that we probably have a little bit of what I’d call wiggle room,” she shared. 

According to MAHC’s website, they’re currently in the “early planning” stage which, pending board and provincial approval, could end as early as this April. That would move MAHC into the “detailed planning” phase, which would include inviting companies to submit their bids to undertake the project sometime in 2027. The third phase is “construction” and is slated to start in 2029. 

With the project estimated to cost around $1 billion, Miller said changes may come in the “next several weeks” but MAHC will have to make sure it fits within the budget they currently have. 

Harrison said they want to “keep the momentum going.” 

“We’re not slowing down,” she said. “We’re taking the time within the time we have to be able to validate some of the things we’re hearing.” 

Smith said anyone who wants to share their thoughts on the project should go to MAHC’s website, email [email protected], or reach out to a member of senior management directly. 

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