MUSKOKA, ON – The ball is rolling to get Bracebridge and Huntsville new hospitals.

Last week, the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) Board of Directors supported a proposal to build new facilities in both communities over the next 15 years.

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith was pleased with the decision and said the plans are all about the future.

“This is not about today,” Smith said, speaking to the newsroom on Wednesday.

“This is about tomorrow. These builds will start quite some time in the future and last up to 70 years. Our communities are going to continue to grow and one of the primary things we need is healthcare that serves our citizens.”

The MAHC board endorsed the proposal at its October 10th meeting. Now, a submission will be made to the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network (NSM LHIN) and Ontario Ministry of Health. The proposal has a new hospital being built on the current Huntsville site. There is new land in the plans for the Bracebridge facility.

According to Smith, parts of the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare facility have been renovated, but the building was originally built in the ’50s and its shelf life is running out.

“It doesn’t meet the current standards for healthcare provisions you would find in a new hospital in terms of infection control or the way things are laid out,” Smith said. “We also know healthcare is going to change in the future.”

There are 23 members on the task force organizing the project which include local doctors, both hospital foundations, auxiliaries, municipal representatives from north and south Muskoka, East Parry Sound and the District of Muskoka.

The group evaluated five ways to redevelop the sites.

“Having carefully reviewed and analyzed the report from the task force, the board agrees with the recommendation that two new hospitals are the best option for our future generations that gives Muskoka and area the acute care facilities our communities want and ultimately require for the next 50 years,” Board Chair Phil Matthews said in a release.

The release added that the sites for the two new buildings enabled innovation, future flexibility and operational excellence.

Smith said both sites are critical for the areas that they serve.

“This has always been about maintaining two sites in Muskoka, serving the area and making sure people have access to healthcare. ” Smith said. “I think there are a lot of conversations still to go on with the province to figure out what the final form and function of these hospitals are.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health funds 90 per cent of construction costs when it comes to new builds. This means Bracebridge and Huntsville would have to foot the bill for the remaining 10 per cent.

Smith said all the options had roughly the same price tag when comparing a new build to renovating the current facilities.

“It was felt a better product could be delivered as a new product, as opposed to the other options,” Smith said. “Locally, I think we are unfairly burdened by a provincial funding formula that says we have to pay 10 per cent plus. I think the province needs to look at that and recognize that we are not like the Greater Toronto Area, we are in a very different situation.”

“At the same time, there is a role for municipalities in the district to play to help support local healthcare. Those discussions will go on for quite some time.”

According to the release, the cost to taxpayers will be roughly $130 million. Mathews said in the release the MAHC will be able to save about $35 million by transferring furniture, fixtures and equipment from the older hospitals to the new buildings.

I’m encouraged that our Foundations studied their ability to fundraise special capital funds and together are prepared to raise $20 million for redevelopment, in addition to ongoing annual multi-million dollar contributions to replace current equipment and technology,” Mathews said in the release.

According to the board chair, those two numbers bring the local share down to $74 million to be funded over the next 15 years.

The release included a “simplified” example of how to raise the money. It said if all 50,000 households in the district put in $8 a month over the next 15 years, the project would be paid off. That was just an example and not something actually being considered.

The MAHC will complete stage one of the proposal for submission to the NSM LHIN and Ministry of Health by the end of the year. Once it gets approval, it will continue on to the next stage in the Ministry’s capital planning process.

“We are excited to bring this decision to a close and look forward to working with our communities to make this plan a reality,” Matthews said in the release. “Together, we can ensure MAHC is positioned with facilities that support outstanding integrated health care to our communities with exemplary standards and compassion. Thank you to all those who have given countless hours to our capital planning that will benefit our communities for decades to come.”