Last night’s announcement by Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC), that the future of hospital services in Muskoka will be located in one central location, has many in the region seeing red but MAHC says that things will stay very much as they are until at least 2030.
In a media conference after last night’s announcement, MAHC CEO Natalie Bubela, along with board chair Charles Forret, said that no “shovels will be in the ground” for around 15 years.
“When we talked about 2030 and beyond, we were not exaggerating,” Forret said. “It would not be before that time unless the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care took exceptional conditions to grant us something earlier.”
Forret added that the process of creating a new centrally located hospital is a time-consuming one which requires approval from both the North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN as well as the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Forret said that in time between, both the Huntsville District Memorial Hospital as well as the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital will remain fully operational saying,
“Nothing’s going to change in what [Muskokans] receive for at least 15 years.”
The 2030 facility would cost an around $400 million (measured by 2030 value) versus a cost of around $550 million for the redevelopment of two distinct hospital sites. Bubela said the new facility will allow for increased space for family-patient visitng as well as increasing the hospitals critical mass which she says will attract more specialists to the area and house them in one location, rather than spreading them out over two locations.
Tim Withey, who helped to organized the Save our Services rally in Huntsville earlier this year and who has been involved heavily in the fight to preserve the current status-quo of two sites, reacted to the announcement saying,
“Obviously it was a decision that wasn’t what the petition signers or rally attendees were hoping for. I think there’s a lot of questions that will need to be answered and I think in particular, it will now be ‘game on’ in regards to where the site will be.”
The location of the new hospital has been one of the foremost concerns raised in the hours after the decision. It’s a question that doesn’t yet have an answer according to Forret and Bubela who say they the selection process will be part of the next phase of planning.
“It’s [going to be] a centrally located site and that is completely open at this time,” Forret said. “It is part of the process of the next stage, the site selection will be a lengthy procress that has to go through broader sector guidelines. It’s not something we’ll quickly decide.”
Bubela said that the decision on where a site will be typically takes anywhere between six to 12 months and requires vetting from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.
“…It’s a very rigorous process and often in advance of submitting a parcel of land or site, [it] has to go through criteria to see if it’s eligible to the Ministry of Health before it can be submitted for our consideration.”
The final decision of where to build the new site will ultimately be decided based on a criteria that will be laid out by a yet-to-be-created committee that both Bubela and Forret say will involve both the MAHC board and community members.
“Transparency and community invovlement is another factor that the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care is expecting and respects,” Bubela said.
A major concern around a one-site solution has been accessibility for residents on the outskirts of Muskoka and East Parry Sound. Bubela said that while there is no minimum distance requirement, there are guidelines that look at providing availability to emergency services within a 30 minute time frame and access to inpatient services within 60 minutes. Bubela said that the MAHC has collected data for possible central locations,
“We’ve looked at 30, 45 and 60 minute marks for those that visit the inpatient and emergency departments, so we have an idea of where a central location might be that would best serve the catchment area,” she said.
Bubela admitted, however, that in some cases not all patients would be able to access a centrally located emergency department within those time frames.
MAHC’s decision has been forwarded to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care for their approval, a yes or no answer is expected to take around three months.