Two acute care hospitals.

That’s the Capital Plan Development Task Force’s recommendation to the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare Board. The task force made its recommendation at a special meeting of the board tonight. It’s been working on the file since last August.

The meeting was attended by around 50 people and was also live-streamed. Task Force Chair Cameron Renwick and Vice Chair Don Mitchell made a presentation to the board outlining how it had come to that decision.

Renwick started by outlining problems with the current hospitals in Bracebridge and Huntsville that included things like lack of space for patients and a rating of “poor” for the buildings by the Ministry of Health. During the presentation, Renwick and Mitchell went over the pros and cons of the three models the task force was examining.

Those models were two sites both equipped with emergency rooms, a single site, or one inpatient site and one outpatient site both equipped with emergency rooms as well. The models were examined on five criteria: Patient & Family Care, Financial, Alignment (with ministry and North Simcoe LHIN priorities), Municipal Impact, and Community Support.

Although none of the three options was perfect, the task force decided that the two hospitals, one in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville, best fit the most criteria. Notably, that option has the most community support and best addressed the issues of accessibility and the future growth the Muskoka region is expected to see over the next couple of decades.

After the recommendation was given, one board member, Michael Walters, questioned why it was for two sites, since that marks a change from MAHC’s previous “one hospital, centrally located” model. He wanted to know what had changed since 2015. Renwick responded that he believed part of it was the creation of the task force, which opened up new ways of thinking that weren’t previously considered.

Brenda Gefucia, who was part of that original recommendation, responded to the question by saying once it was made clear that a centrally located model wouldn’t be possible, and that the hospital would have had to have been in either Huntsville or Bracebridge, that was a “game changer” which helped push the two hospital model.

The recommendation was supported by both Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison and Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith who were both in attendance and who both believe a two hospital model is what’s best for the region.

“Local councils and members of the community clearly support the maintenance of hospital services in both Bracebridge and Huntsville. Over several years, I have worked with municipal leaders to advocate for two acute care sites in Muskoka. With this decision, the Task Force has recognized the importance of maintaining the two facilities in Bracebridge and Huntsville. I look forward to the Board’s support for the recommendation brought forward by the Task Force,” said Mayor Graydon Smith.

Mayor Scott Aitchison commented, “I have said on many occasions that a fully functional acute care hospital is a must in both Huntsville and Bracebridge. The discontinuation of any areas of service would have a severe impact on our communities and I am pleased to strongly support the recommendation brought forward by the Task Force.”

The recommendation will now be considered by the MAHC board, which announced tonight it will be reviewing it at an in camera meeting tomorrow, and a final decision of accepting or rejecting the recommendation is expected by Friday.