Bracebridge’s Mayor is disappointed in the recent actions taken by Huntsville.

Mayor Graydon Smith says Huntsville council’s push to dismiss the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare board of directors is going against the Muskoka-wide initiative to bring better healthcare to the district. He says many local officials are trying to present a united front to get more funding from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Smith says this move by Huntsville is taking a giant step back from that plan.

Smith says he hopes there’s still a way to negotiate this problem and move back to a unified position so Muskoka officials can start putting pressure on the province once again.

Huntsville councillors say the MAHC board has provided conflicting details on the planning process for the future of the two hospital sites in Muskoka, which has led to mistrust with both local officials and residents. The vote on Monday was eight-to-one to petition the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to dismiss the MAHC board of directors.

During Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s presentation to council, prior to the vote, the organization called for a grassroots effort to advocate for better funding formulas for local hospitals. MAHC officials Evelyn Brown, Cameron Renwick, Peter Dean and Harold Featherston updated the town on redevelopment talks and answered questions from council during their presentation.

The meeting was moved from its regular space at council chambers to the Algonquin Theatre, to allow for enough space for community members to attend. The presentation from Board Chair Brown, Task Force Chair Renwick, and Task Force Member Dean partly focused on the funding formula for medium-sized hospitals, which they say is putting MAHC in the position of running a deficit. Brown advocated for collaboration with the community, saying if the board and residents work together to push the province to fix its formula, action is more likely.

Featherston, Chief Executive, Diagnostics, Ambulatory & Planning, explained no single organization is going to change the funding formula, and voices need to be heard collectively. However, Featherston says the ministry has acknowledged there is an issue, but it doesn’t know how to fix it. He says there is a lot of attention on this issue these days, and movement could eventually be on the way.

The three models on the future planning table include two acute care sites, the most popular option within the community. If chosen, both sites would have acute care beds, an emergency department, general surgery, obstetrics and intensive care. MAHC says these services would be supported by other core diagnostic services and health support. Specialty surgeries and programs, like chemotherapy and complex continuing care, will be at one site only which is how it currently works. The model also has a stroke rehabilitation unit and MRI services at one site.

The second option is having inpatient and outpatient services at separate locations. This model, if chosen, would also have emergency departments at both sites. The inpatient site would include all hospital beds, surgical services, obstetrics, and intensive care, as well as a stroke rehabilitation unit and MRI services. The outpatient site would have services that don’t require an overnight stay at the hospital, like endoscopies, x-rays and other diagnostic imaging, and services like chemotherapy and dialysis.

The third and least popular option is moving to a single-site model.

One of the major issues pointed out by Mayor Scott Aitchison is a 2015 motion passed by Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, which states the one-site model is MAHC’s preferred model. He explained that this being the board’s official stance is unnerving for the community and asked if MAHC would rescind that motion.

Featherson responded by saying when the Ministry of Health approved this planning process in 2017, the approval came with a $1 million grant which essentially reset the clock. Brown also explained that began a whole new process, with new money, a new mandate, and a new contract with the government. She says the one site decision of 2015 shouldn’t be a black cloud over what’s happening now, and if the ministry had said MAHC could take the single site model off of the table, that’s what it would have done.

Councillor Bob Stone asked if MAHC felt it was clear the public will only accept two acute care sites. Brown explained one of the main criteria the board was to consider the operational cost of that kind of model, as that is what MAHC is working with now and it’s running a deficit.

Brown reiterated that, in order to have that kind of care, there needs to be a significant fix to the funding formula by the province. She also noted at the beginning of the meeting MAHC is pushing to set a meeting with the Minister of Health to address and advocate the critical funding issues.

Renwick says the next steps for the task force is to analyze reports, evaluate the models and recommend a preferred model. No exact timeline was available, but MAHC estimates it will be within a few months.

More information on the three options are redevelopment talks are available on the MAHC website.

With files from Taylor Ablett. 

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