It’s a moment community members have been waiting for with anticipation.
Today at Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced $14 million to get to the next stage of planning the redevelopment of both the Huntsville and Bracebridge hospital sites.
“It gives me chills. I love this area as you know,” Ford told those present. He also said as the hospitals redevelop, the province will increase the number of beds at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) by 50, thereby bringing the total number of beds at MAHC to roughly 140.
Ford also said an additional $500 million has been earmarked for the redevelopment of both sites.
“And it’s important that we stress both, I emphasize both communities because it’s not acceptable to choose one over the other as previous governments were going to do,” said Ford. “The fact is the whole region is growing fast and we need to ensure that people and families all across the region have access to high-quality care when they need it most, close to where they live.”
MAHC interim president and CEO Vickie Kaminski estimated the timeline between the conclusion of planning the redevelopment of the hospitals to shovels in the ground is usually about five to six years.
“We have to go through a whole site selection, site preparation—all that work that has to be done before we can actually start to build,” she said.
Asked whether the redevelopment means new facilities or enhancing the existing ones, Kaminski said: “So we’re looking right now at what those options look like. In Bracebridge it’s a new facility, in Huntsville it’s new facilities and we may take some of our equipment, some of our existing equipment, into those facilities.” She added that both sites will be full-service acute care hospitals “just as we have now with emergencies, ICUs, inpatient beds, etc.”
As to whether both projects will be planned and executed simultaneously, Kaminski said: “Again that’s part of the planning so that we look at what works best for us so that we maintain all of our services on the sites and don’t have any disruption in that.”
When Ford was asked why it took so long for the decision to be made, he said when he first took office there was a split between Bracebridge and Huntsville. “I didn’t want to split the towns… now this region is growing,” he said, adding that it will continue to grow further with investment in high-speed internet. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, along with many things, is you can work from home. You can be up at the cottage and live here year-round now and be able to work from home so that adds additional burden/capacity onto the hospitals so they need the support. The decision was made, you know both regions are about 40 kilometres apart too, so let’s build up Bracebridge, let’s build up Huntsville because a lot of people are coming from the north into Huntsville as well,” Ford said of East Parry Sound.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said the work has been in progress for some time, noting that MAHC has already received a million dollars to start the planning and the additional $14 million will enable the completion of drawings to be done “so that we can move the project forward and hopefully get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.”
Elliott said hospitals have been given funding to help with expenses as a result of COVID and there is a process in place “that we’re going to be increasing base funding by over four per cent, which means every hospital in Ontario will receive at least a two per cent increase.”
Ford added: “Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare not only serves the more than 60,000 year-round residents but each summer that population more than doubles, actually I’d probably say it even triples, as Ontarians and visitors to our province come to enjoy our spectacular cottage country. In fact, their emergency departments treat 45,000 patients each year. Like all of Ontario, this region is growing and it is time for you to get the modern hospital capacity you desperately need.”
He said previous governments promised, talked, studied, and studied some more “and then they got nothing done but our government will get it done where others wouldn’t.”
Ford also gave a nod to Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller.
“There’s no better person to be standing here today with us than you, Norm. This hospital’s located on Frank Miller Way, named after the former premier and Norm’s dad. That goes to show you how highly regarded the Miller family is up here and is a testament to the decades of service they’ve given to make life better for the people of this community,” said Ford, who thanked Miller for his 21 years of public service, and wished him well in his retirement while also promising to keep him busy.
Ford also gave long-time resident Bob Hutcheson a shoutout and thanked him for attending the announcement.
Hospital representatives and both Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano and Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith thanked Ford for the announcement.
Former MAHC CEO Natalie Bubela, who was responsible for pushing to get a proposal on the table, was at the announcement and said she was ecstatic, particularly as someone who lives in the community. “I was a little worried about the fact that it was dragging on and there were many other needs in the province and then when you have to set priorities, where did we fit? But, clearly, with this announcement and the amount of money that they’re giving the hospital for planning, I think that the government is absolutely serious about moving ahead and getting these structures up and built and serving our communities as fast as possible,” she said.
MP Scott Aitchison, who was mayor of Huntsville when the process began, said it was the biggest issue he faced when he became mayor. “And you know Graydon Smith, he was mayor of Bracebridge and me as mayor of Huntsville, we figured out early on that unless we work together none of us win. And so we just stuck together and we worked hard, we rallied the communities—not just Huntsville and Bracebridge but all of Muskoka and all of East Parry Sound—we rallied the communities to come together not just with their voices but in many cases with their pocketbooks and they demonstrated not only do we just believe we need these hospitals but we’re committed to making sure that they’re here.” Aitchison described the announcement as surreal.
Smith also thanked Ford and said it was an unbelievable day. He said all communities impacted by the announcement are unbelievably grateful. “This is absolutely a game-changer for our region. Hospitals are a cornerstone of our communities. They’re institutions that communities are built around and this allows our communities to continue to grow and thrive and without this investment, things could be very, very different,” said Smith. “We’re just so happy that the people that can make these decisions have listened… today is a great, great day for everyone involved.”
Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano thanked everyone who has “been working for years for this announcement today.” You can watch her remarks below.
The next provincial election takes place this June.
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