Tuesday, 13 January 2015

We're Still Doing Our Homework on Long-Term Planning

It’s been a few months since I have blogged about Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s work to plan Hospital Care for our Future Generations. Mid-November, we updated our Planning for the Future webpage to share some of the feedback we received on the five different options/models that were under consideration for providing hospital services in the future. One thing that became clear from our consultation work in August and September is that one hospital in between Huntsville and Bracebridge is challenging. We have received clear guidance from the District of Muskoka about municipal servicing, which makes it more difficult to pursue the option to build one new hospital for all of Muskoka in the Port Sydney/Utterson area. We also received preliminary information from a cost estimator showing the range in size and cost of the potential redevelopment models that were on the table and the estimated 24% local share that must be borne by the community and an understanding from our Foundations of the challenges of fundraising the required local share while continuing to raise money for ongoing capital needs. On top of all of this, we have heard from residents, hospital staff and physicians about the advantages and disadvantages of the different models we were contemplating.

All of this has reinforced the need for us to undertake additional analysis and investigation into to a sixth model that blends the benefits of each model into a solution that meets the needs of the community and MAHC. Essentially, this means we are looking at one hospital model operating over two sites and exploring centres of excellence at each of our sites while also supporting sustainability, increased efficiency and reduced duplication. Back in November we also shared this in a press release to the local media to help spread the word.

So in late November and again in December, an internal working group of about 30 people (which included clinical leaders and 16 physicians including general surgeons) met to explore the art of the possible. They have suggested a variety of options that we are examining and no plans have been confirmed. Once a tangible strategy is developed, or one that we feel has some ‘legs’, we will engage our municipal leaders and our communities like we have on several occasions throughout the planning process. It is critically important to me and the Board of Directors for MAHC that the community is part of this journey and provides input that will help shape the future of care in Muskoka. We hope to have more public information sessions sometime in March, so please stay tuned and we hope you will attend.

At the same time, Health System Funding Reform, the funding formula introduced by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, is putting further pressure on our ability to balance the budget, which is a legal requirement of the organization. MAHC is facing a revenue shortfall in 2014-15 as the mitigation period applied to the funding formula ends and our sites will experience the full impact of the funding formula. As well, as the Ministry shifts its investment in health care to the community our volumes are declining and are also impacting our ability to balance the budget. We need to ensure that whatever the future model of health care is in Muskoka can survive within the funding formula. We are engaging the Hay Group, a firm that is familiar with MAHC and its operations, to assess our current operations to ensure they are in line with the Ministry’s funding formula. This assessment will also help to validate and ensure that any future model of health care fits with the new funding and our costs.

I know there is some sense of concern in the community about the future of the local hospitals. I have personally answered phone calls in response to social media posts or blogs they have read, and I assure you that MAHC is committed to openly communicating with the community when we are in a position to do so. I think we have a proven track record in this regard. So, just for the record once again, before any decision is made by the Board of Directors, a plan for the future will be presented to our municipal partners for their input and to the community at large. We hope you will be part of the conversation.