Gravenhurst council recently received an update on the state of healthcare across the region and the progress being made towards two hospital builds.
Chair of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) Moreen Miller and Cheryl Harrison, MAHC president/CEO presented their “vision of reimagining local hospital care with two new Muskoka sites” to the Committee of the Whole on Dec. 20. They emphasized the need to move forward with new, larger spaces in order to address “hallway medicine,” improve services and meet provincial standards. They also urged council to start thinking now about the financial commitments required by municipalities in order to meet the “local share” component.
Currently, a new hospital has been approved for 100 Frank Miller Drive in Huntsville and a site selection process is underway for Bracebridge.
Harrison began by outlining the reality of hallway medicine. “We read about hallway medicine, how patients shouldn’t have to wait on a stretcher to get to an inpatient bed. Hospitals should ideally be at 85-90% occupancy. None of this happens at our hospitals…we are consistently over 100% occupancy and many days we’re at 115-130%.”
She showed a picture of the emergency department at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital, with an ambulance stretcher where patients wait for a bed. “When these hospitals were built, they were to accommodate population and usage at that time, nowhere close to what we are doing now. They’re about half the size they should be, ” said Harrison.
The same holds true for diagnostic imaging spaces. Harrison said there have been many “band-aid solutions” over the years, and that they “do our best with the layouts we have, but that solutions come at a cost. For example, in order to address rising mental health needs, two safe rooms were created, but that came at the expense of using some of our other cubicles because we had nowhere to expand the department.”
Inadequate space also means “people waiting for emergency, diagnostic services, oftentimes we can’t accommodate the spacing for infection control precautions and often people are waiting–they are anxious, they’re in pain.”
New plans also hope to meet the provincial standards of 80% for private rooms (for one patient only). “Our hospitals are accommodating only about 15% private rooms, most rooms have either two or four beds,” she explained. “Private rooms are not a luxury, they’re not just ‘nice’ to have. There are overwhelming benefits including infection control, privacy and space for family to support loved ones. The lack of private rooms at MAC has been a considerable challenge over the last two years of the pandemic.”
Aging infrastructure and meeting current provincial standards are two other important factors. Harrison said that their facilities are rated in poor condition and that many of the old buildings “do not even meet standards for best practices delivery.” This, in turn, creates a barrier to attracting and retaining healthcare professionals, she said.
“And the moment you start to renovate, you must bring everything up to code,” Harrison said. Even minor renovations can cost two to three times higher than expected.
Miller broke down the cost of building two new hospitals. “The Ministry covers the lion’s share of the project, leaving the community to raise what we call ‘local share,’ according to a formula. Generally, the community’s local share can be up to 30% of the total project cost, which covers 10% of building cost, plus all furniture, fixtures, equipment in buildings and any revenue-generating space like gift shops or parking lots.”
To date, the District of Muskoka is making a cumulative allocation of $1.6 million, Bracebridge council has earmarked $230,000 and Huntsville $115,000, respectively.
“We are absolutely relying on our foundations, local municipalities, the District of Muskoka, together with our own organization. Each entity has to participate, starting now. The bottom line is that if we don’t satisfy local share, our project will not move on. Setting aside funds now is far easier than putting it off to raise the same amount in half the time,” said Miller.
With the build scheduled to start in 2027, there’s time to generate revenue and make investments, they emphasized. CAO Scott Lucas said a report giving options is forthcoming.
Community input is being sought throughout the process. “This will include significant stakeholder input from staff, physicians, volunteers, patients and families with our consultants. We are also forming user groups relative to the various functioning areas of the hospital,” said Miller.
User groups will begin in January, with a series of virtual and in-person sessions planned for Jan. 16-25 and Jan. 17 at the Terry Fox Auditorium. A second round will follow in March.
Community can influence planning, Miller emphasized. “Our team members are really the experts and they know what the future of healthcare can be.”
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