Ontario Premier Doug Ford was in Huntsville on Sunday to announce $14 million in funding for the planning phase of the proposed redevelopment of two Muskoka hospitals.

The funds allocated will go toward what Ford described as a plan to modernize, redevelop and expand both Huntsville District Memorial Hospital and South Muskoka Memorial Hospital.

At completion, the redevelopment in both communities will add 50 new beds to the Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare (MAHC) system, the premier said. That will translate into 140 beds being available across MAHC upon completion.

“It is time for you to get the modern hospital capacity you desperately need,” Ford said. The funds will cover things like design work.

Vickie Kaminski, interim president and CEO at MAHC, said facility renewals at both hospitals have been a long time coming, indicating that both hospital foundations have “already started with plans to raise money to support the hospital redevelopment in both communities.”

She said the anticipated timeline between the planning phase and shovels in the ground could run around five to six years.

“We have to go through a whole site selection, site preparation; all that work has to be done before we can actually start to build,” Kaminski said.

“We may take some of the existing equipment into those facilities,” Kaminski said, adding that both redeveloped hospitals will be full-service acute care sites, equipped with emergency rooms, intensive care units and in-patient beds.

She said the pandemic has exposed gaps in care and the rebuild at both sites “shows us the promise of the future, with contemporary hospitals located in Bracebridge and Huntsville.”

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Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano told the Star the planning stage will determine the full scope of the project.

“The gist of the message is there will be either new, or redevelopment, or a combination of both in both locations,” she said.

She said Bracebridge might require new lands for the build but the existing Huntsville site has room for expansion and redevelopment, but all that still has to be determined.

Ford alluded to the province kicking in a combined $1 billion ($500 million each) for the redevelopment. Terziano said those figures have been floated by the province, and “then there will be a local share, that has to be added.”

Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith called the planned redevelopment “a game-changer for our region. This allows our communities to continue to grow and thrive.”

The emergency departments of both hospitals treat a combined 45,000 patients each year, the premier said.

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Reach him on email: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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