Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare is responding to Monday night’s surprise twist in Huntsville. It was announced at a council meeting that Mayor Scott Aitchison could be getting sued by MAHC for comments made in a local paper regarding hospital redevelopment talks. He said he received a notice of defamation and cease-and-desist just before the meeting got underway regarding that commentary piece.

MAHC has responded to that news, saying it is not suing anyone. Officials say the letter was sent on behalf of the MAHC Board of Directors and Senior Leadership Team to address what it calls misleading and defamatory comments. It also says Huntsville council’s motion to dismiss the MAHC Board and CEO, and to dissolve the organization, aims to undermine the public’s confidence in the organization and its leaders.

The motion council voted to table.

Board Chair Evelyn Brown says they understand there are concerns about the redevelopment options. She says MAHC is listening to feedback from the community and stresses again no decision has been made. Brown also says the Capital Plan Development Task Force is close to recommending a preferred model, but needs time to do the work.

There are three options being looked at for the future of the hospitals in Huntsville and Bracebridge. The option of biggest concern is moving to a one-site model to serve all of Muskoka, which MAHC says will cost around $348 million to build. That number is based off a cost estimate from 2015, and MAHC says it will be seeking new cost estimates for each of the models the task force is currently considering.

Another option is having two acute care sites, which, according to the 2015 cost estimate, will cost around $475 million through a combination of new build and renovation. Chair of the Capital Plan Development Task Force Cameron Renwick says when public feedback called for acute care services at both sites, the two acute-care site model was modified to include emergency, obstetrics, critical care and surgery at both sites.

The third option is designating inpatient and outpatient services at each hospital location, which the 2015 cost estimated would come with a price tag $373 million through new build and renovations. Renwick says this model, along with the two-acute care site model, was also updated following feedback on the importance of the emergency room. He explained a public survey found access to an emergency department was critically important, and so the task force modified both two-site models to include emergency rooms at both sites 24/7. Renwick says just because the one-site model is still an option on the table doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be chosen. He also stressed the task force is listening to community feedback and taking it into consideration.

This all follows a Facebook page that is continuing to gain popularity, called “Listen to the People, MAHC!”, which is up to nearly 7,000 members. The creator of the page, June Tebby, says losing her husband in 2014 was part of the motivation behind it. She explained in an interview with the newsroom that she was worried if the hospital moved to a one-site model, the personal touch that was so important to her husband as he spent a lot of time at the Huntsville, would be lost.

The Facebook page now has hundreds of comments from community members explaining why two hospital site model is important to them.

The end result of Monday’s meeting to vote to petition the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to dissolve MAHC was put on hold, after the town and MAHC officials agreed to meet to address concerns and questions about the project. The motion is expected to come back to the table at April’s meeting.

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare has also added a question-and-answer section to its website to explain some of the issues raised in the community.

Previous story:

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison could be facing a lawsuit over public opinion piece

Huntsville puts motion to petition province to dissolve Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare on hold

MAHC being encouraged to “Listen to the People”

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare responds to the “Listen to the People, MAHC!” Facebook page