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HomeNewsMuskoka Algonquin Healthcare boss 'optimistic on alignment' with physicians on redevelopment plan

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare boss ‘optimistic on alignment’ with physicians on redevelopment plan

A meeting Wednesday night involving Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) and its Credentialed Staff Association (CSA) has left Cheryl Harrison, president and chief executive officer, optimistic. 

“Last night what I saw was us working as a team,” she tells the newsroom. “We’re all in this together. We all want the best high-quality healthcare for Muskoka in the future.” 

Ahead of the meeting, MAHC announced they’re “fine-tuning” the “Made-in-Muskoka healthcare” proposal. The first part of the reworking was to look at how the 157 inpatient beds will be distributed between the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital (SMMH) in Bracebridge and the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital. 

“We’ve been listening to our communities, our physicians, our team members and distribution of the beds seems to be at the top of the list, the priority,” says Harrison. 

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She adds she left the meeting “optimistic on alignment” between MAHC and its physicians. 

The meeting also saw the “Care Close to Home” proposal put forward by some South Muskoka Physicians” along the Gravenhurst’s Cottage Country Family Health Team. 

Harrison says the proposal is “well beyond” the budget set for the redevelopment project by the Ministry of Health but adds there are aspects that could be molded into what MAHC has on the table. 

“We talked about how important designing these two hospitals for the future is in terms of having high-quality health care and having centres of concentration or excellence in certain services,” explains Harrison, adding she didn’t hear anyone speak out against that point. 

She acknowledges the process so far has been emotional with some criticism from residents stemming from the thought that MAHC’s plan is already set in stone and feedback from physicians and the broader community won’t change much. 

“We never intended for anybody to think that the plan is fully complete,” says Harrison. 

She echos what Moreen Miller, chair of MAHC’s Board of Directors, said last month that this plan is not finalized. 

“We didn’t take enough time to engage at the beginning to get people aligned,” says Harrison. “We’re taking the time now.” 

With more input from physicians, Harrison says the plan now is to work with Resource Planning Inc. to see what can be done to rework the plan. Next week, she explains the plan is to take that altered plan back to the physicians. 

The next meeting with the CSA will shape the community engagement sessions that Harrison says will be detailed “soon.” 

A meeting is being held on Thursday morning involving Harrison and other members of MAHC senior management to figure out how to move forward with the proposal and engagement. 

“We really don’t want to slow down,” she adds. “We’ve got good momentum.” 

Harrison believes that momentum has allowed them to get an “envelope of time” with the Ministry of Health and Infrastructure Ontario 

“We have had the assurance that if we keep going at this pace and if we want to maintain the timeline of before the end of the year and sooner if possible, nothing will impact our queue,” she says. 

The queue Harrison is referencing is from Infrastructure Ontario and details projects waiting for funding and what their place in line is. 

“We’re taking the extra time it needs to get the consultation that they want to hear about,” says Harrison about the Ministry, but adds there is still “not a tonne of wiggle room.” 

Whatever the hospitals end up looking like, Harrison says they have to be “flexible.” 

“Today, we have partnerships with health services providers in the community, our Hospice, a retirement home where we do a hospital home program,” details Harrison “Those are things that are going to be absolutely essential to have in place to foolproof, quite frankly, the plan.” 

A recent report discussed by District of Muskoka council shows Muskoka’s population could rise to close to 100,000 by 2051 but 41 percent may be over 64 years old. 

Harrison says, at times, 30 percent of MAHC’s inpatient beds are being used by people who may be able to receive their care at home. 

“We’ve got to be able to have the flexibility to not just provide services just in the hospital,” she continues. 

It was about a month ago when Harrison said there is “quite some time” before the redevelopment project plan is finalized by MAHC’s Board of Directors. 

That is just one part of the plan. 

MAHC is in the “early planning” stage of the project with two more phases to go before the hospitals will be in use. 

The latest estimate is that construction could start as early as 2029. 

“There’s going to be a lot of work ahead of us in the next eight years around how we organize ourselves to provide care differently,” says Harrison. 

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