Thursday, 30 September 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine – An Added Layer of Protection

COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue across Ontario and throughout the world as a significant step forward to fight the COVID-19 virus and to one day ease the impacts of the global pandemic.

The vaccine is not a bulletproof vest against COVID, but is a scientifically-recognized layer of protection in addition to public health measures of masking, physical distancing and frequent handwashing to protect yourself and others.

Hospitals are where some of the most vulnerable patients receive care. In response, the Chief Medical Officer of Health issued Directive 6, mandating hospitals and other high-risk settings to develop and implement a COVID-19 vaccination policy by September 7, 2021.

Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s COVID-19 vaccination policy meets the requirements of Directive 6, which requires unvaccinated and partially vaccinated staff and credentialed staff to submit to weekly rapid antigen testing. All team members also continue to wear personal protective equipment and adhere to infection control guidelines to safeguard themselves and patients we care for.

We respect there is a public expectation for health care workers to roll up their sleeves for a vaccine and at MAHC we are actively encouraging staff our team members to get vaccinated. Vaccination is one of the most successful public health strategies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

It is important to remember that staff and physicians may not be vaccinated because of medical exemptions or exemptions-based grounds protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (such as religion). It is not solely based on a personal decision to decline for reasons unrelated to medical or human rights exemptions.

At MAHC, more than 90% of our team is vaccinated and we know that 100% may never be achieved based on the allowed exemptions.

Nevertheless, we encourage the public to get vaccinated to increase a person’s immunity to the virus. While vaccinated people may still contract and transmit COVID, we know it has been scientifically proven that the effects of the virus are minimized.

Your community hospitals continue to work tirelessly to provide the highest quality health care in Muskoka. You too can all do your part to keep them safe by getting vaccinated.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Gearing up for Accreditation 2022 – our ‘Journey to Excellence’

We are on a ‘Journey to Excellence’ as our entire team starts to gear up for Accreditation 2022.

For years, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare has voluntarily participated in the Accreditation Canada program to constantly improve the quality of care we provide to patients. “Qmentum Accreditation” is tool that ensures we are meeting the best standards of care while also identifying recommendations on how we can improve.

Every four years, independent surveyors with health care expertise complete a multi-day onsite survey to examine all aspects of the health care we deliver – from patient safety and ethics, to staff education and training, governance and partnering with the community. During this survey, both sites are measured against specific Required Organizational Practices (ROPs) associated with close to 2,500 national standards of excellence. An ROP is an essential practice that organizations must have in place to enhance patient safety and minimize risk. They are categorized into eight quality dimensions: accessibility, appropriateness, client-centred services, continuity, efficiency, population focus, safety and worklife; and six patient safety areas, each with its own goal, as follows:

Safety Culture: Create a culture of safety within the organization;

Communication: Promote effective information transfer with clients and team members across the continuum of care;

Medication Use: Ensure the safe use of high-risk medications;

Worklife/Workforce: Create a worklife and physical environment that supports the safe delivery of care and service;

Infection Control: Reduce the risk of health care-associated infections and their impact across the continuum of care; and

Risk Assessment: Identify and mitigate safety risks inherent in the client population.

Preparation for accreditation starts with self-assessments by core teams. The results of individual staff surveys also help to identify any gaps, supporting our preparation for the actual Accreditation Canada survey where surveyors evaluate our compliance with the ROPs and standards that contribute to high quality, safe, and effectively managed care.

To achieve an ‘Accredited’ decision, an organization must meet a minimum of 80% of all criteria, and a minimum of 70% of high-priority criteria and Required Organizational Practices in every standard set.

Our most recent survey in 2018 awarded us the highest possible rating: Accredited with Exemplary Standards, having met 95.8% of the 2,438 standards. Once again we are striving for the top award and to demonstrate we are committed to quality improvement, every day.

Our Accreditation 2022 theme ‘Journey to Excellence’ was chosen from a variety of suggestions generated through a staff naming contest. It is supported by strong branding that plays on our MAHC acronym with imagery of a person actively on the journey.

Year after year, with the accreditation process, we have continued to build on our commitment to work together to provide outstanding integrated health care to our communities and deliver best patient outcomes with exemplary standards and compassion.

MAHC acronym with the C in the shape of a stick person

MAHC's Accreditation 2022 logo

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Time is Heart – Be Sure to Call 911 for Heart Attack Symptoms

While our team at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) has been busy responding to the many changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, our commitment to implementing new models of care and different ways to deliver care to improve patient outcomes has remained steadfast.

Through advancements in cardiac care and incredible partnerships we have developed, earlier in May Muskoka joined the Simcoe Muskoka Code STEMI Protocol. ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) is a very serious type of heart attack during which one of the heart’s major arteries is blocked. Using Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI, formerly known as angioplasty with stent), a catheter is used to place a balloon and stent to open up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by plaque buildup. It is a non-surgical procedure that can be facilitated in the Cardiac Intervention Unit at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH). This protocol partnership with RVH provides a direct line to interventionist cardiologists and the gold standard of care where a patient receives advanced cardiac care in less than 120 minutes from first medical contact.

This means that some Muskoka residents with heart attack symptoms may now be transported by Muskoka Paramedic Services directly to RVH in Barrie for their lifesaving treatment. Paramedics have the cardiac monitoring equipment and the clinical expertise and training to quickly and accurately identify elevations in the heart rhythm, and more specifically a STEMI. That is why it’s so important to call 9-1-1 if you experience symptoms of a heart event like chest discomfort, sweating, neck and jaw discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea and light-headedness. The ambulance will bypass our hospitals and go straight to RVH. Time is heart and the sooner a blockage can be opened, the less damage to cells in the heart muscle.

Code STEMI simulations with nurses, doctors and paramedics were held at both sites in preparation for the new protocol.

MAHC is also participating in the protocol for patients who present to our Emergency Departments with symptoms. One week after the protocol went live in Muskoka, three patients presenting at each of our sites received cardiac care through the STEMI protocol, and a further patient bypassed our two sites altogether and went straight to RVH through local EMS.

Dr. Megan Stephenson, a longtime Emergency physician in Huntsville, says it’s exciting to be a part of the joint initiative of Muskoka hospitals, RVH’s Interventional Cardiology program and Muskoka Paramedic Services to bring state-of-the-art cardiac care to the community’s doorstep.

“For heart attack patients who meet the criteria, cardiac catheterization can be performed at RVH in a timely fashion to reduce morbidity and mortality,” explains Dr. Stephenson. “Our first patient encounter on Tuesday, May 11, demonstrated a true collaboration among nurses, paramedics, ward clerks and physicians to expedite the care of a heart attack patient.”

Dr. William Hemens has been an emergency medicine physician in Bracebridge for 35 years and was on shift at the South Muskoka site when two patients presented the morning of May 11. As a clinician, he is pleased at how cardiac care has developed over time, and proud as a local resident to have access to advanced cardiac services in the region. He praised the partnerships that have conquered geography and distance to achieve a streamlined protocol that supports timely care.

“This protocol is so important to facilitating the patient’s coronary intervention to return proper blood flow to the heart muscle to diminish the potential damage of a heart attack faster than before, which is so reassuring for our communities” says Dr. Hemens. “It’s also important for communities to support hospitals in achieving these advancements by donating to the equipment and facilities that allow for these services to grow and develop. It’s because of donors that health care providers can deliver state-of-the-art care.”

This is a positive and progressive change that provides access to care that residents of Muskoka deserve and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of it!

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Looking forward after one year with COVID-19

As January 2020 rolled in and the first reports of COVID-19 started circulating from abroad, hospitals across Canada started planning, knowing it was just a matter of time before this new and highly contagious coronavirus arrived on their doorsteps.

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the novel coronavirus was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. At the time there were fewer than 100 cases of the disease we now call COVID-19. Just a week earlier, we had issued our first communication to staff introducing the coronavirus, and preparations at MAHC were well underway when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.

In the days and weeks that followed, there was a whirlwind of activity as we worked quickly and efficiently to roll out the many Ministry of Health directives put in place to assist hospitals in creating capacity to deal with a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. Non-urgent and elective procedures and many ambulatory services ramped down while our Emergency Departments remained open. Screening for travel and symptoms was introduced for both patients and staff. Cleaning and disinfection practices were enhanced, isolation needs soared, and spaces were converted to prepare for what may come. Personal Protective Equipment was a concern in the early days as supply into the country and flow through to hospitals failed to keep up with demand. On March 25, we cared for our first inpatient with COVID-19. In April, more cases followed requiring inpatient care. To date, 16 people with COVID-19 have received inpatient medical care at MAHC; sadly, two succumbed. Others have received care in our Emergency Departments and discharged home to isolate.

Reflecting on the past year, different emotions come to bear for anyone working in health care. Many are sadly grim. By definition novel means new, and in health care novel rightly evokes fear. As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic draws near, I am reminded that in those early days and still today, our staff and credentialed staff show up and provide exceptional care in the face of an ongoing health crisis mired with uncertainty. Our Muskoka and East Parry Sound communities are fortunate to have such a dedicated team at their community hospitals. Through the challenges and uncertainty, we at MAHC have learned more about our adaptability, our individual commitment as health care workers and overall resolve as an organization to come together as a team to look after our communities’ needs in a year like no other.

While each of us will have different perspectives on COVID-19, the optimist in me feels privileged, proud and confident to lead such a tremendous team of professionals. I can’t say enough about the amazing efforts of our people – taking care of patients and their families, and caring for each other with immense respect for their fellow team member’s valuable contributions to our collective response.

Today in Simcoe Muskoka the threat of COVID-19 variants of concern oblige us to stay vigilant by following all public health measures to reduce the risk of exposure and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Instead of continuing to look back on a year that has challenged us in an unprecedented way, I am looking forward with hope on the horizon as COVID-19 vaccines reach more arms. Many of our staff and credentialed staff are eligible for immunization, and more than half of our team has received both doses. They tell me it’s a humbling moment and one they are grateful for, but still acknowledge that regardless of vaccination it is critical to continue to follow all protection measures to avoid the potential of a third wave of this pandemic.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Gratitude to Hospital Staff Looks Different This Holiday Season

The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Simcoe County and in the District of Muskoka as the holiday season nears is alarming. It’s also important to recognize that COVID positive cases in Muskoka are likely higher than what is being reported locally when cases are attributed to and counted in another health unit within the province. A surge in cases has the potential to also impact bed capacity within the hospitals and our ability to maintain the provision of outpatient services, such as scheduled surgery and procedures.

As we watch the numbers grow everywhere, we must pause and reconsider traditional holiday approaches. Regardless of a pandemic, the holiday season is a time for giving. Over the years many of our staff and/or their departments have been on the receiving end of tremendous acts of gratitude during the festive season.

Thoughtful gifts to say thank you like boxes of chocolates or Christmas baking warm our hearts and mean a lot to our team members, but they also carry a level of risk to our staff and physicians that is not advisable, and can ultimately potentially hinder our ability to provide high-quality care to you or your loved ones when needed.

Gift baskets for example, similar to boxes of chocolates, typically contain items that are intended for sharing, which results in multiple sets of hands touching products. This has the potential to increase the risk of sharing germs that make people sick. It’s not just the COVID-19 virus we have to worry about, but also seasonal influenza and gastrointestinal illness that can easily spread from person to person if we let our guard down to risk.

The safety and wellbeing of our team members is a priority for our hospitals, and therefore we regret our staff are unable to accept homemade prepared food such as Christmas baking and shareable items in gift baskets this holiday season. We hope you can understand why this is necessary.

We are truly touched that grateful patients and/or their caregivers want to show their appreciation this holiday season. Perhaps the best way you can show our team your love is to give the gift of better local health care by supporting our Foundations that work tirelessly to raise money for our much-needed capital equipment and technology needs.

Both of our Foundations have specific giving programs that allow you to honour a hospital hero by making a tribute gift in their honour. We encourage you to consider gratitude in the form of a donation to your hospital hero:

Huntsville Hospital Foundation “Hospital Heroes” giving program:

South Muskoka Hospital Foundation “Health Care Heroes” giving program:

This holiday season, the MAHC organization has also ensured gratitude is shown to our staff and physicians for their dedication and hard work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of being able to hold a Christmas Dinner & Dance, the Team Building Committee, with the additional support of the Joint Credentialed Staff Association and the MAHC Christmas Party Committee, have organized the “12 Days of MAHC-Mas” events, including a $5 “downtown dollars” voucher for Huntsville or Bracebridge to support local business and encourage each team member to stay local, shop local.

On behalf of the MAHC team, I also want to offer my deepest appreciation to our communities for your unwavering support in 2020. Season’s greetings from my family to yours and best wishes for a safe holiday season and a prosperous and healthy New Year.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Take it from Us and Do Your Part to #StopTheSpread

Earlier this year, our collective sacrifices helped flatten the curve of COVID-19. But the growing case count is a warning that our hard-won progress is slipping away. Our collective commitment to containing the virus is particularly critical given the steep increase in daily positive cases, growing number of hospitalizations and limited acute care capacity. Each of us once again needs to do our part and work together to help fight the second wave. Now more than ever we need to follow public health measures and make appropriate decisions for our own safety and the safety of others, especially those most vulnerable.

For months now our health care teams at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare have been working tirelessly on the front lines to keep our patients and our greater communities safe. With lived experience they see the pandemic through different eyes. Through this month’s blog, we are raising awareness of the need for everyone to be ‘COVID-conscious’ and play an active part in preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Many have come forward to share the everyday practical choices they’re making and decisions they have made personally to protect others from COVID-19. They challenge you to join them in taking the pledge to #StoptheSpread.

Rebecca, a Registered Practical Nurse tells us, “all public health measures have been followed. We are trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 by keeping social circles small, limiting exposure by not going to restaurants or making unnecessary shopping trips, and by wearing masks when social distancing is not an option.”

Mary Ellen from the Laboratory says, “My family followed Ontario Public Health guidelines when my father who was in long-term care passed away in August during COVID-19. We had to limit the number of people who could attend the funeral mass and they had to submit their names and be put on a list and be placed in fixed seating spaces. No hugging was allowed and physical distancing was followed. Every person who attended was required to wear a mask or face covering.”

Dr. John Simpson tells us: “Deciding not to spend time with any family this Thanksgiving was a really tough decision – one our family made this year to help #StoptheSpread. An extended family video chat and a 'Thanksgiving Trivia Challenge' proved to be a lot of fun instead and may become a yearly tradition too. My little sister even sent a Tim Hortons card
to the winner! Yah! Video chats, online trivia and silly online games with friends, and sharing funny texts and messages with family and friends has helped keep my teens and my family connected! Donning a fun scrub cap along with our daily mask and outfit at work helps to lighten the mood of our new work reality. It also reminds others to be careful with everything we touch, sanitize and wash our hands lots, and to transition to clean clothes with any transition away from work. The fun caps have helped the 'not so great hairdos' of COVID as well. It’s fun being 'corn head', 'brain boy', 'carrot top'... you get the idea. Helping to #StoptheSpread is a great message to pass on and constantly challenge us all! Join with mine and yours!”

Liz in Administration says, “Zoom is in! Visits with friends and family outside of my bubble are out! There’s a part of me that still can’t fathom this is happening. I miss the spontaneity of life. I’ve had to adapt to new ways of creating meaningful times while keeping myself and others safe. It’s been a tough ride but I know if we all do our part we can curtail the second wave. Nature has become my solace.”

Adrienne, a Ward Clerk, explains: “I avoid high-risk activities such as non-essential travel, dining out, going to the movies, going to the gym and getting my hair cut.”

Allison, an Executive Assistant says, “I subscribe to a workout app so that I can exercise in the comfort and safety of my own home. I do my workouts virtually to protect my friends and family. It is important for all of us to take the time for ourselves each day to stay healthy physically and mentally during these stressful and anxious times.”

Dr. Jennifer Macmillan shares: “I have been consistently wearing a mask in all public spaces, at work and in the community. I perform hand hygiene prior to and following every patient assessment. We have converted our hospital committee meeting to a Zoom meeting monthly. We have converted the annual general meeting of the Ontario Association of General Surgeons to a virtual meeting. I strongly encourage my teenagers to be compliant with mask wearing and with hand hygiene every day, not just in school. I have spoken with them about the importance of these measures. Even if they think they will not become ill from COVID-19, they put the whole family at risk (including grandparents), and they compromise my ability to work, which also has significant implications for the patients in our community as well as the nursing staff at the hospital.”

Nurses Lesley-Anne, Kathy and Angela tell us: “Outside of work and inside work we social distance!”

Dr. Kristen Jones explains: “I wear a mask every day, carry hand wash in my purse/car/pocket and minimize the number of people I see in person. There are a lot more phone calls and Zoom calls. My family has cancelled many gatherings including Easter, August long weekend and Thanksgiving. We stay in more often so we have been playing lots of board games!”

Our health care heroes continue to be vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 and remain committed to #StopTheSpread of the virus, and more stories will be featured on our Facebook page (follow us @MAHCHospitals). Together, we encourage our communities to re-commit to following strict public health measures, such as wearing a face covering, frequent handwashing, physical distancing and limiting personal contact.

You, too, can take the pledge to #StoptheSpread by visiting

Friday, 4 September 2020

MAHC COVID-19 Assessment Centre Update

I have taken to my blog to clarify and correct misinformation circulating in the community to foster a greater understanding of the COVID-19 assessment centre situation in Muskoka. I want to emphasize that the hospital’s core mandate is to provide emergency and acute care services at two hospital sites. Hospital operations have been significantly impacted during the COVID19 pandemic as has our staffing requirements. We must continue to ensure emergency and acute care services are protected and available and meet the communities’ needs in the pandemic while following provincial direction, and ensuring our staff and physicians are safe and supported. I want to thank the many community members who have shown tremendous support to their hospitals during these difficult and challenging times.

The fact is that MAHC has not been responsible for the operations of the COVID-19 assessment centres in Huntsville and Bracebridge since they opened on April 1, 2020. The Huntsville centre had been staffed and operated by the Algonquin Family Health Team and the Bracebridge centre had been staffed and operated by the Cottage Country Family Health Team. Unfortunately, the Family Health Teams were no longer able to provide this public health service in Huntsville due to their own operational challenges. As a result, they gave notice that they were closing the assessment centres effective August 28, 2020. This information was shared verbally during our regular political leader meeting and in writing on August 11, 2020. 

MAHC has been a community partner supporting community testing alongside many providers since the beginning of the pandemic. We offered space on an interim basis for the Huntsville assessment centre to function in space that on April 1 was not being used by the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) due to school closure. School has since resumed and this year’s Community Clerkship medical students have arrived in Muskoka so NOSM has reclaimed its space. 

Given the Family Health Teams were closing the assessment centres, and in the absence of other willing and able parties, MAHC stepped up to provide this public health service in Muskoka on hospital property at the South Muskoka site as it had an appropriate standalone outbuilding that could be retrofitted. 

To make an appointment for a COVID-19 test at MAHC's Assessment Centre in Bracebridge, call 1-888-383-7009. For more information, visit

As services paused at the beginning of the pandemic have ramped back up in the hospitals, and there is a requirement to physically distance, unfortunately there is not the extra standalone space nor health human resources (staffing) capacity to safely provide multiple assessment centres. This is not a decision driven by finances or cost. Our health human resource needs have increased exponentially through the pandemic and recruiting to Muskoka during these uncertain times has been difficult, without the added regional challenge of attainable affordable housing in Muskoka. The pandemic has required the hospital to expand staffing levels in certain areas, and as such the need for people to provide care and support to our patients during the pandemic has increased dramatically. This need for physical health human resources and the challenges to recruit are shared by countless hospitals across Ontario, as well as Long Term Care, and home and community care, let alone private enterprise in many different labour markets. 

I recognize that access to testing is important and we hope that other community health care providers will also organize and support access to COVID-19 testing through the fall and winter. I also understand travel to MAHC’s assessment centre located in Bracebridge may be difficult for some people. Those who are challenged to attend MAHC’s assessment centre in Bracebridge can talk to us about options when they call to make their appointment. I would encourage people to consider their own individual options for transportation supports by reaching out to friends and family or regional transportation services, such as the Corridor 11 bus that stops at the South Muskoka site. I also remind people they can engage their family doctor or nurse practitioner who may also be able to take a COVID19 swab for their patients. While one centre is not proximal or convenient to all, MAHC must also balance the population needs of the south and west portions of the region we serve, which to date have not had an assessment centre in their backyard. 

It is hoped all understand that MAHC did not close the assessment centres. MAHC stepped up to assume the responsibility for community testing, and due to reasons explained above, is only able to do so in one location in Bracebridge. There would not have been a COVID-19 testing in Muskoka after August 28, 2020 if MAHC hadn’t stepped forward to offer an assessment centre.

I am confident that through the carefully considered assessment centre venue on our property and the staffing model, MAHC is positioned to meet the regional need for testing efficiently while protecting our staff and hospital patients. With the resources we have, MAHC continues to do the very best we can to serve the thousands of residents and visitors across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On behalf of our staff, physicians and volunteers we thank you for your continued support.