Two Muskoka Algonquin hospitals hit 150 per cent capacity for the first time

The outside of Huntsville hospital with a sign pointing towards parking Photo by Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare via Facebook

Two hospitals in Bracebridge and Huntsville, Ont., went into gridlock earlier this month after hitting 150 per cent capacity.

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s hospitals have consistently been above 100 per cent capacity since before the pandemic started, says Diane George, the vice-president of integrated care, patient services, and quality. But they had never before experienced the increase of patients that led to gridlock on Oct. 4.

“At 150 per cent, we were pretty much full to the rafters, but the team’s been working extremely hard to maintain our standards,” she says.

The spike is due in part to how Muskoka’s healthcare industry accommodates its older community members. Statistics Canada census data from 2021 found the median age was 49.7 for Huntsville residents and 51.2 for Bracebridge residents,—both areas are around 10 years older than Ontario’s median age of 40.7. But George says that older patients have few resources for at-home nursing support, personal service workers, or retirement homes. The ones that exist are either too far from the patients’ homes or they have long waitlists. This leaves the hospitals crowded with patients who need non-emergency or “alternative” care.

MAHC’s hospitals are currently undergoing construction that will add more than 50 patient beds, bringing the total for both locations to around 160, George says. Bracebridge mayor Rick Maloney has advocated for this construction, and the creation of two new hospitals in Bracebridge and Huntsville, in conversations with Ontario’s Minister of Healthcare, Sylvia Jones, and Minister of Long-term Care, Stan Cho. 

Through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, mayor Maloney is also pushing the federal government to improve housing opportunities “for seniors and vulnerable persons” in their community.

“When you don’t have adequate housing, you become more susceptible to being involved with the healthcare system, whether it’s on the mental or physical health side,” he says. “We also spoke to the Ministry of Health about staffing challenges.”

Like many institutions across the province, MAHC is in the middle of rebounding from staffing shortages. George says staff who put off retirement to help combat the pandemic are starting to take their leave. 

To compensate, the hospitals are expanding staff housing programs, improving their recruitment software, and giving placements to high school, college, and university students.

“Our numbers are climbing. Last quarter we recruited 36 new staff,” she says, adding that MAHC has around 700 staff in total.

As part of a partnership with local clinics, the hospitals also reserve beds for their patients at other institutions. Muskoka Hills Retirement Villa expanded to nine beds in early October, up from seven beds before the gridlock. Andy’s House now provides another six beds, up from five. “We’re trying to find other places to safely deliver care,” George says. 

By October 24, MAHC’s occupancy rates went down to 132 per cent. George anticipates it will keep dropping as construction and staffing efforts continue.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that MAHC doctors were putting off retirement. MAHC doesn’t directly employ physicians. 

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