Two new hospitals are coming to the south Muskoka region in an effort to enhance access to quality healthcare in Huntsville and Bracebridge.
Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare will provide necessary upgrades to the existing Huntsville District Memorial Hospital and the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge. Both current hospitals have been in operation for about fifty years and are in need of infrastructure improvements to meet modern community needs.
The planning process for the two new hospitals has been ongoing for years but is now in the developmental stages. The new hospital will be built upon the existing Memorial Hospital site in Huntsville. In Bracebridge, sites are being surveyed to build on new land, and planners have narrowed it down to three possible locations. Important factors in determining location are proximity to Highway 11, access to public transportation, availability of municipal services, and consideration of seasonal residents and cottage owners.
What will the hospitals cost?
The Ministry of Health for the province of Ontario is expected to cover up to 90 per cent of all construction and ancillary costs for the new hospitals. However, the communities themselves are expected to cover 100 per cent of all equipment and furnishing expenses. “This is a tremendous cost,” says Mayor Nancy Alcock of Huntsville. “But we can do it. And we already have two hospital foundations that have raised money from the community for the new sites.” The Huntsville branch of Scotiabank has even donated $100,000 to the hospital fund. You can find more information on becoming a donor here.
Equipment costs for the new hospitals are estimated to reach $25 million. Mayor Alcock says that municipalities within south Muskoka will continue advocating to the province for more funding. “First and foremost, we are really thankful that the province recognized the need for two hospitals here,” says Mayor Alcock. “We worked hard to keep both hospitals in Huntsville and Bracebridge. Money can’t come before this.”
New hospitals will help local economy
MAHC President and CEO Cheryl Harrison also adds that “the existing hospitals will be transferring over as much of the equipment and furniture as they are able to in order to minimize the impact.” The new hospitals will bring needed jobs into these communities, with job growth expected in both construction and hospital staff. “There will be a large number of construction jobs for the 2-3 year construction period at each site,” says Harrison. “In addition, each hospital will be planned with more beds than we presently have, which means there will be expanded staffing.”
This is good news for an ongoing shortage of doctors and nurses in Northern Ontario. There is a deficit of 350 doctors, nurses, specialists, pediatricians, and anesthesiologists in the region, up from 325 in 2022. A similar trend is taking place across Canada, highlighting the need for better access to healthcare and better recruitment strategies for healthcare professionals in rural and remote communities.
MAHC hosted public information sessions for the two new hospitals at virtual and in-person meetings in January. More information sessions are scheduled for April 17-22 not only for Bracebridge and Huntsville residents, but also for people from Gravenhurst, Port Carling, and Burk’s Falls. “All communities in south Muskoka have a stake in this,” Mayor Alcock says. “People are excited. They’re nervous about the costs, but they are mostly excited and they want this to succeed.”
“Nearly 500 people joined us at open houses in January, and generally, there is enthusiasm for new hospitals to become a reality in Muskoka,” says Harrison. “The new facilities will allow us to meet building codes and provide an environment that is better suited to staff to deliver care and to the patients who receive it. They will have a better design for efficient flow of services, including diagnostic and care delivery equipment.”
Cottage owners in south Muskoka stand to benefit from this too. Since the start of the pandemic, cottage country populations have been booming, and there has been some lag between the growing demands of the community and infrastructure development. Investing in and building new facilities is fundamental to meeting the modern needs of residents and cottage owners and updating existing services.
For cottagers concerned about what might happen if they ever experienced an emergency while alone at the cottage, the new hospitals come as welcomed news. Infrastructure improvements in the area could lead to better access to paramedics and other emergency response teams. This, in turn, will lead to faster and more effective healthcare for both local and seasonal residents alike.
Need more news?
Find your cottage state of mind all year round with our weekly newsletter, DocksideSign Up Here