By Rob Hurst
Graydon Smith is a large part of the reason we don’t have a new regional hospital in Muskoka.
You may recall, almost a decade ago, the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) Board wanted to build a new regional health centre. The two existing hospitals, in Bracebridge and Huntsville, were old and rundown and full of asbestos. The hospital board recommended the new hospital be built in the middle of Muskoka. But it never said precisely where.
Everybody assumed the new Muskoka regional health centre would be built in the Port Sydney area, about halfway between Huntsville and Bracebridge.
The problem: Port Sydney is technically in the Town of Huntsville.
Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith criticized the MAHC Board. He launched a campaign to save his local hospital. He declared Bracebridge wouldn’t be a town if it didn’t have a hospital. He suggested all the doctors and nurses would flee Bracebridge. Although his responsibilities are roads, zoning, and the like, Mayor Graydon Smith became an overnight expert on health care.
His attack created a firestorm, like a hot cigarette butt thrown into a dry Muskoka forest. The other mayors and councillors across Muskoka I spoke with at the time were stunned by Graydon Smith’s aggressive approach and Bracebridge-only demands. They were forced into a corner—and most said it was not their expertise. Forget Muskoka unity. Bracebridge and Huntsville were at war.
Then Graydon Smith upped the ante by promising free municipal land for a new hospital—in Bracebridge.
Local councils eventually came together to propose a two-site model, only one of which would have acute-care services and, under intense pressure, the MAHC board shelved the plan for a new regional hospital in Muskoka.
From Graydon Smith, it was parochialism at its best and small-town hubris at its worst. It was a selfish political position that ignored the greater needs of everybody across Muskoka.
So here we are, nearing ten years later, still with two old rundown hospitals. If Graydon Smith had supported a regional health centre then, we would be close to cutting the ribbon today. Instead, the dream of improved health care, and close access to it, is nowhere in sight.
Graydon Smith is now knocking on doors, asking voters to send him to Queen’s Park. He says he is the champion of new hospitals for Bracebridge and Huntsville. His team is using the carefully scripted phrase “two fully equipped acute care hospitals”.
That little phrase is a PR hoax. A “fully equipped hospital” is not the same as a “full-service hospital”.
A “full-service hospital” is a regional health centre that offers a wide range of services like maternity, orthopaedics for broken arms and legs, cardiology for blocked arteries, cancer treatment, and mental health care.
A regional Muskoka health centre would have offered services like that. Graydon Smith’s hospitals will not. Ontario will not build two “full-service hospitals” 40 km apart—nor should they.
One thing Graydon Smith’s hospitals will have: taxi chits, lots of them, to send us where they send us now, up and down Highway 11 to the Royal Vic in Barrie and other regional health centres.
Last month, the premier himself, Doug Ford, announced a grand new plan to redevelop hospitals in both Bracebridge and Huntsville. A $14-million investment, the premier boasted, for planning over several years for two hospitals.
What malarkey. As comparative crumbs go, this wouldn’t even feed a mouse under the chesterfield at the Ford family cottage.
Graydon Smith has, by many accounts, been a good mayor for Bracebridge and a leading voice at the District. One hopes he has the wisdom to realize he has made an enormous mistake about hospital services in Muskoka. It’s a ten-year mistake and counting.
Robert Hurst, the former president of CTV News, has reported on local, provincial, and federal politics for 40 years.
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