Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) representatives spoke about their made-in-Muskoka healthcare plan for the future to a packed Active Living Centre in Huntsville on Thursday night.
Those in attendance heard that ideally, there would be fully equipped, full-service hospitals providing all services at not only two but three or four communities in Muskoka, but that is beyond the possible, said Chief of Staff Dr. Khaled Abdel-Razek.
“With the amount of funding that we have, and with each of the challenges that we will be facing, keeping all services, adding beds, adding services in an integrated model, as described, will be the best way forward,” he assured.
MAHC CEO Cheryl Harrison said the model will not require an increase in the community share of $225 million and is realistic compared to building two full-service hospitals about 30 minutes apart.
MAHC, which manages both the Bracebridge and Huntsville hospitals, has been making the rounds explaining the proposed healthcare model for the future, which involves building two new hospitals and distributing services between the two.
Building the two new hospitals will cost just under a billion dollars. One will be built in Bracebridge and one in Huntsville. Both will have emergency rooms and acute care beds. The Bracebridge site will focus on ambulatory, short-term care services while Huntsville will focus on inpatient complex care services. The interdependency of both of the sites and the ability to concentrate patient volumes for certain services in one rather than two locations, will concentrate volumes and help bring more medical staff and services to the community, noted MAHC representatives. Services like, for example, orthopedic joint replacement, expanded orthopedic trauma care, and gynecology.
“As I said, we’re not losing anything, and the status quo I think is more a risk for us in terms of losing things because if you’re doing exactly the same at both sites, and it’s watered down, there is more of a risk that we start losing those services because you can’t find staff, you can’t be efficient…,” said Harrison.
Change is hard and change management will be key, she added. “Designing a new model like this that’s focused on centres of excellence around clinical services, plus being system-based (hospice, nursing homes, and other care providers outside of hospital) even more than what we are, really does mean that we’re going to have to do things differently and change management is going to be dramatic. Change is hard,” she added.
Both hospitals will have a fully-equipped, 27-bed Emergency Department with diagnostic equipment and staff. The Bracebridge ER currently has 11 beds and Huntsville currently has 17 ER beds.
- The Huntsville site has received its rehab designation which will complement its regional stroke centre designation.
- It will have beds that will support general surgery patients.
- It will have 10 Intensive Care Unit level 3 beds (This is a new service. People had to be transferred out of the region in the past).
- Obstetrics is being concentrated in Huntsville. There are currently about 300 births per year across the two sites. About 2/3 in Huntsville and 1/3 in Bracebridge. Staffing two sites has become an issue. Concentrating this low-volume service in one site will help with staffing. Complicated cases go to Orillia. Bracebridge ER will be able to deliver a baby during an emergency but the designated site will be Huntsville.
- Huntsville will have 139 beds.
- Single-siting ambulatory care/day surgeries in Bracebridge will mean higher volumes and could leverage expanded services.
- Scheduled diagnostic and specialty tests, mammography, bone density and nuclear medicine will be focused at the Bracebridge site.
- Scheduled clinic visits for things like chemotherapy and seniors’ care will be done at the Bracebridge site.
- Bracebridge will have 18 beds.
- It will have four level 2 acute care beds. Higher acuity and longer required stays will be sent to Huntsville.
- Currently, between the two sites, MAHC conducts about 7,500 day-surgery procedures per year. That is expected to increase to 9,700 based on growth and access to new specialists by the time the hospitals are built.
“These two hospitals are going to be the sum of a bigger healthcare system,” said Harrison.
She also noted that the province does not fund hospital equipment, the money comes from the hospital foundations and auxiliaries, which means more can be done by diversifying service and capital infrastructure offered in two sites.
The plan will be tweaked and continue moving through the planning stages and Harrison said a tender for the hospital builds is expected to be issued in 2027, awarded in 2029, shovels in the ground in 2029, and occupation would be taking place in 2032.
Those in attendance also heard that the MRI is expected to be online in about 18 months.
Harrison said some of the details of the plan are still being worked out with community partners and that includes transportation.
In terms of the community, MAHC will be challenged to work hard to convince segments of the community, particularly in South Muskoka, that the proposed model will not favour one community over the other.
“People are thinking Bracebridge is going to be a small hospital. Based on the planning we have today, it’s going to be growing by 30 per cent. It’s going to be going from 133,000 square feet to 175,000 square feet because of the services that are going to be there,” said Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer Alasdair Smith.
Former Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano cut to the chase and asked whether one site would draw more, much sought-after family physicians to the community than the other.
Dr. Caroline Correia said while all care providers are trying to wrap their heads around the new model and figure out how it is going to impact them personally and as a community, the model provides more opportunities for the diverse interests of healthcare providers such as family physicians.
She said there will be opportunities for physicians who prefer to work exclusively in the community and have very little interest in hospital affiliation. The opposite will also be true for physicians who want to work in a hospital with higher volumes which will be possible through the concentration of services in one site. “They may be interested in a way that they’re not now because it’s not enough volume for them and they’re not interested in being at a lower volume centre,” said Correia. “The reality is we’re going to need a lot more providers. I think there’s going to be room for a lot of people and I don’t think it’ll be as clear cut as, ‘it’ll be good to work here and not to work here.’ I think the hardest position to be in is those who are already working in these communities, in the way that we’re used to working in these communities, and to see that shift.”
97-year-old Bob Hutcheson tells people not to miss this opportunity
Long-time Huntsville resident Bob Hutcheson said to applause, “Dare we risk this? We were back in the 28th place and somehow we got moved to the second place and the last time we got a hospital was about 46 years ago, before that we had a Red Cross hospital … and so if we have this opportunity, as a 97-year-old guy, I’m saying, ‘hey we should grab it now because we won’t have another chance…”
Check out upcoming community chats taking place across the region, both in person and virtually, from January 29 to February 7, 2024. Please visit www.mahc.ca/communitychats for more information and to register to attend a virtual chat via Zoom.
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