Mark Clairmont |

MUSKOKA — Within hours credentialed staff at Muskoka’s two hospitals will face off with MAHC management in life and death talks on neutral ground in Port Sydney.

That’s the ironic halfway point between Huntsville and Bracebridge where once there could have been a mega hospital.

An announced willingness on both sides in the divisive dispute may yet come down to compromise.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting a couple of south Muskoka doctors are at least “cautiously optimistic,” says Dr. Scott Whynot a family physician at the Bracebridge Medical Arts Centre.

“I would say that’s fair,” he said late Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Luke Wu, an internist at the same clinic agrees.

Whynot said “there has to be a way to make $1 billion work” for both hospitals.

Doctors were aware that this meeting was planned weeks ago.

In the wake of Monday’s surprise announcement that MAHC is willing to at least talk about changes to its controversial ‘Made in Muskoka’ redevelopment model, the two doctors tell that they are open to more information sharing this evening.

And hearing from the MAHC board and its consultants how they came up with their original proposal that would have weighted bed care more toward Huntsville District Memorial Hospital at the expense of South Muskoka Memorial Hospital they believe.

MAHC said labour delivery could remain in south Muskoka along with more than the proposed 14 inpatient beds.

“They’ve publicly said they’re willing to reconsider their model and that they’re willing to make changes based on feedback,” said Whynot. “So I’ll take them at their word. And we’ll see what the situation is like tomorrow.

“And I’m hoping to work with them to make something that works for everyone,” said the physician who penned the original letter from close to 50 south Muskoka doctors last month that sparked wider public opposition in the south.

Whynot called it “a new framework to start with.”

He said of his group’s ‘Care Closer to Home’ follow-up report that “we recognize there are financial limitations. And we don’t have access to how much things cost. They haven’t given us that information for a number of reasons.

“So what we wanted to do is have a different framework of what a hospital system could look like. And if it’s too expensive then from that we can negotiate how to make things more cost effective and how to make things make sense financially. Rather than using their model and trying to build up from there.”

He said the model doctors presented is “very similar to the model we were working on in the user groups for several months. They have a lot of similarities in terms of the two fully-serviced acute hospitals. We want to back things up to that model and then and find cost savings from there to make something that makes sense clinically and financially.”

MAHC said in December their plans went askew when new costing figures upped the price by 45 per cent they say in latest reported estimates.

“But we’ll see what they come up with and like I say, I think they want to negotiate and work with us as clinicians, which would be great.

“We’ll see. For now we are cautiously optimistic as reasonable.”

Dr. Luke Wu, an interist at BMAC, emphasized the uneven season population distribution between north and south Muskoka for the need for a bigger hospital presence than is proposed now by MAHC. He showed the Huntsville hospital site’s catchment area is half that of South Muskoka Memorial Hospital.

Whynot was asked about calls for two separate hospitals moving forward.

“A lot of people have said that, which in some ways makes a lot of sense to me. You know a lot of it is beyond my area of expertise. I don’t know the legal issues behind it, the accounting. Obviously there is some efficiencies found in being united. But maybe we can work better separately. So I’m neutral on that issue. I’m not sure.

“We’re all in the same LHIN, so we can still work together. Lots of hospitals do that already, but still be separate boards and entities.”

Whynot agrees with Huntsville being the stroke recovery centre.

However, with “higher admission volume and population in the south,” he “recognizes as well that the Huntsville hospital services a wide area. So they need a fully-functional hospital themselves as well.”

“Ideally we’d like to see both sites have adequate beds to serve their catchment areas.”

The Care Closer to Home model did call for slightly more beds in Bracebridge, but not the wider gulf in numbers of MAHC’s most recent proposal.

Whynot addressed the question of “hospitalists” brought up by MAHC, which they said is the physician future.

“We are the hospitalists.

“It is a little bit confusing. Most family doctors in rural locations where different hats.”

Much as in the past rurally by tending to their patients at SMMH and HDMH. In south Muskoka doctors see their patients in hospital and run their family practice. In Huntsville they rotate weekend and week-long shifts with other GPs and Family Health Team partners.

“It’s family doctors who are running the (hospital) program.”

It may be that way in the distant future, but not here and not now.

Muskoka is unique that way, he says even as some hospitals are leaning that way.

And having doctors in the south of Muskoka travel to Huntsville to tend patients impractical.

“Anyone who wanted to work in the hospital, which many of us do. It wouldn’t be feasible to work in a hospital 30 minutes from where you live. Because people in hospital are sick and you can’t predict when something bad will happen. And you have to go there and be there.”

Besides, having fulltime hospitalists is impractical, said Whynot, citing closer personal relationships with patients.

And if the higher bed distribution north were to happen you could see more doctors moving there to take care of patients and run or join a practice in Huntsville.

Finally on that subject, Whynot said the 24/7 emergency room doctors on shift do in an emergency — say for a cardiac arrest — respond to ward patients, temporarily leaving the ER to “go upstairs.” The family doctor would still be called. As well for other lesser illness crises the family doctor is called.

Fifteen minutes with a patient is not the same as a 15-year relationship, he agreed.

On the subject of obstetrics, he said having twice as many babies being born in Huntsville is no excuse for abandoning mothers in the south. Not when an exorbitant amount of money is being spent on a stroke program with just over a dozen beds at the expense of 100 births at SMMH.

Equally on spending he said even he is left to wonder about stories claiming Collingwood can expand its hospital for $250 million.

“There has to be a way to make $1 billion work for hospitals here.”

Dr. Wu emphasized yesterday the population density and distribution citing a District of Muskoka study showing a “much bigger population — especially considering the seasonal population — than Huntsville.”

MAHC in its materials for tonight’s meeting show 36 and 38 per cent of hospital users in July and August are seasonal or from elsewhere than Muskoka residents. (That’s 4,914 and 4,871 people according to 2019-20 data.)

He said that ‘Second Home Study’ reported an addition summer population of “around 90,000 in south Muskoka versus in Huntsville around 30,000.

“So we’re much bigger. The population density is definitely in south Muskoka.”

In Bracebridge the cottager numbers showed 24,687 extra, in Gravenhurst 24,880 more and in Muskoka Lakes 35,113 = 84,680.

In Huntsville those numbers are 27,307 in Huntsville and another 16,000 in Lake of Bays for a total of more than 43,000.

“That’s still half of the population of south Muskoka.”

Wu said Huntsville’s catchment area also includes Almaguin, which he says may tend to Parry Sound or North Bay.


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