The equity of hospital funding is dividing the Muskoka District Health Committee.
At the September 21 committee meeting, the proposal to develop two new hospitals in Muskoka was discussed.
The total redevelopment will cost $967 million dollars, with the Provincial government providing $742 million dollars in funding. This leaves the local share required at $225 million dollars for the project.
The local share component, and which residents will be using the facility, led to a debate about the equity of hospital funding within Muskoka. One of those who had issues with the proposal was Muskoka Lakes councillor Ruth-Ellen Nishikawa. She stated that this was not a proposal for Muskoka as a whole, but instead it was a proposal for east Muskoka.
“This report is about east Muskoka; this report is about the highway 11 corridor. It does not address west Muskoka at all,” Nishikawa said.
Nishikawa highlighted that for many people living in Muskoka Lakes it is faster and more convenient to go to the hospital in Parry Sound rather than to use MAHC hospitals. But despite this lack of use these same residents would have to pay for these new hospitals.
“We’re asking Muskoka Lakes to pay 38%, where most of our residents will never have access to these hospitals,” Nishikawa said.
Displeasure at having to pay for services their constituents will likely not use was shared by Georgian Bay councillor Brian Bochek.
“We have a population over there that is not being serviced at all. They are not coming to Gravenhurst, they are not coming to Huntsville. So, this absolutely does not work for our township,” Bochek said.
Presently the municipalities of Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville and East Parry Sound have made commitments totaling $30.5 million dollars to local share. The proposal put forward by staff recommended that the district commit $77.3 million dollars towards local share. The district commitment would have to be shared by the various municipalities within Muskoka.
Nishikawa expressed concerns for the financial burden being carried by Muskoka Lakes residents and the increasing affordability issues that local taxes are adding to.
“I’m concerned about my taxpayers, and I’m actually really concerned about my family being able to stay in Muskoka,” Nishikawa said.
According to the proposal, staff has calculated that a 13-year plan to raise the local share commitment would increase property taxes on a $300,000 dollar home by an estimated $4.29 per year and $14.30 per year for a $1 million dollar home.
But it was not only the future costs of the project that caused concern from councillors. Another issue raised was the history of hospital spending by the district. Georgian Bay councillor Peter Koetsier who attended the meeting despite not being on the Health Committee went over the statistics which showed a large disparity in funding across Muskoka. Koetsier read statistics from the staff report which stated that of the $5.1 million dollars in hospital grants since 2009 only $15,000 dollars was spent on the Georgian Bay General Hospital. Koetsier stated that this spending was unfair for an area with 8% of the district population.
“If you want to do the math, that’s one quarter of 1% went to Midland (Georgian Bay General Hospital). Can I repeat that? One quarter of 1%, for 8% of the population and 8% of the overall financial contribution. Frankly, that’s not fair,”
Koetsier and Bochek advocated for amendments to the proposal to allow for concessions to the smaller and unaffected municipalities. Koetsier suggested allowing each municipality to choose where its local share contributions are spent.
“If we’re going to collect health and hospital tax from them, they should be able to allocate it to the hospital they’re going to use,” Koetsier said.
While almost every member of the committee acknowledged that there were legitimate fairness questions involved in this project, some raised concerns that the committee should not throw away the proposal. Committee Chair Terry Glover stated that the committee must be careful not to lose a great opportunity for Muskoka.
“There’s a lot of other hospitals waiting for this opportunity. I can’t see it coming around quickly again,” Glover said.
District Chief Administrative Officer Julie Stevens stated that the current stage of the development process must be completed by January. Not meeting this deadline would mean that the project would likely be removed from Infrastructure Ontario’s list of procurement projects list. Being removed from the list would in effect put the project at the back of the queue and put the project back even longer.
As highlighted in the report the MAHC facilities are often at 140% capacity. The buildings are also difficult to update causing further operational issues. Overcrowded and out of date facilities concerned Glover that it would be difficult to attract health care workers to Muskoka.
“What message are we sending to the public and to our health care workers if we say at council here in a month’s time, we don’t support upgrades and fixing up our hospitals,” Glover said.
These concerns were shared by Councillor Jeff Lehman who stated that the district needs these hospitals’ updates.
“Muskoka needs this so badly and so clearly. I mean, it’s not just the capacity issues. It is the fact that we’re growing municipality a growing district again, we saw that during the past few years, and we know what’s coming in and the pressures are very real on our hospitals, and so the capacity is needed,” Lehman said.
After further debate amongst councillors an amendment was drafted and adopted which pledged to further increase funding to local shares separate from the MAHC project in order to have more funds to spend at other health care facilities within Muskoka.
Committee approved the proposal which will be sent to district council for further debate and final approval.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!