New Wellness Centre is a model of community vision collaboration

This time next year, Port Carling will be a different place. And the MLA applauds the unprecedented community collaboration – permanent and seasonal residents, service clubs and church groups, ambitious volunteers and dedicated donors – that will make the Muskoka Lakes a better, safer destination for generations.

All eyes are now turning to the $8-million Wellness Centre on the west side of Port Carling, on a 13-acre site just north of the Foodland store, between Hwy 118 and the Indian River.

Named for the local philanthropists who donated the site and $750,000 to spark construction, the Brock and Willa [Napier] Wellness Centre will add three important institutions to the Township of Muskoka Lakes: a nurse-staffed “health hub” open five days a week; a 30-unit seniors’ residence; and Andy’s House, a high-tech hospice that will provide a caring and professional setting for the terminally ill and the friends and families who visit them.

Although these projects have been led by year-round Muskoka residents, they will be available to cottagers as well. It’s the MLA’s hope that our members and other seasonal residents will help the community raise the funds required to complete these essential projects.

Each project is a separate entity, with its own specific needs. But if you can't decide which one to support, you can write a cheque to the Brock and Willa Wellness Centre, c/o the Township of Muskoka Lakes, and your contribution will be divided between all three.

The first building to break ground is the Health Hub. The timing depends on raising the required funds; the Health Hub has raised more than $1.3 million, and needs to raise another $700,000 to finish the building and equip it properly. Staff for the permanent Port Carling Site have already been hired and will be ready to begin providing care to residents of Port Carling and surrounding areas out of the Wahta Hub Site located at 2350 Muskoka Rd 38. Box 239. Bala ON, by late August or early September until construction of the permanent location for the Port Carling Hub is completed in the spring of 2016.

“The community support has been absolutely fantastic,” says Allan Edwards, a Township of Muskoka Lakes councilor who chairs the funding drive with his wife, Linda. Besides individual donations, local businesses, church groups, farmers’ markets, entertainers and even the Mayor’s annual golf tournament have raised money for the facility.

Edwards says the need for a nursing station was identified in 1999, but it took the Napiers’ participation to get the project off the ground. The 3200-sq.-ft. “hub” will also include facilities for visiting professionals such as medical specialists or psychologists. There will also be a room for meetings and health classes.

“Right now we have enough to put the building up,” says Edwards. Additional facilities and equipment will be added as funding allows.

Aside from providing local access to basic health care, diagnostic and prescription services, the health hub will save taxpayers money by managing patients who might otherwise incur higher costs at a hospital. “It keeps the overall cost of health care down.”

As well, Edwards says the three facilities will create good jobs, year-round, and encourage economic development in the township by attracting and retaining residents who need regular health services and don’t want to travel too far to access them.

“There are so many benefits [from these facilities] that most people don't understand,” says Edwards. “They're wonderful community catalysts.”

In another example of synergy, all three low-rise, wooden buildings have been designed to resemble each other and honour their Muskoka setting. To maximize efficiencies, they are all being built by the same contractor. “It’s a great example of community collaboration,” says Andy’s House fundraiser Mary Grady, who is also vice-chair of Hospice Muskoka, which provides non-medical supportive care to residents of South Muskoka.

Andy’s House is a product of collaboration between Hospice Muskoka and the Andy Potts Memorial Foundation, set up to remember OPP officer Andy Potts, who died in a collision in 2005. Andy’s House will provide a warm, professional setting for palliative patients who have no need or desire to be in hospital. The 8,000-sq.-ft. building will include 10 private rooms (initially, three will be used for respite/convalescent care), a kitchen, a quiet space/chapel, and communication equipment for remote collaboration with physicians and other medical resources.

Unlike hospital settings, family members staying with loved ones will be able to grab a nap or a coffee or bowl of soup any time of day. “It keeps the whole family together in a home-like setting,” says Grady.

She says it will be entirely appropriate for a cottager who loves Muskoka to choose to be cared for in Andy’s House, in a quiet, wooded setting overlooking the Indian River.

With the Health Hub campaign nearing its end, Andy’s House is ramping up its own $2.6-million campaign, which has already raised $400,000. “We're now getting out and making our presence known,” says Grady.”We're hoping people will donate as generously as they have to the nursing station.”

Of the $2.6-million total, $2 million will go to construction and equipment, and $500,000 to startup operating costs. Patient costs will be covered by the health-care system. Like the health hub, Andy’s House will help reduce overall health-care costs, as the daily costs of patients in hospice are less than half of those incurred by patients in hospital.

“I hope seasonal residents will support Andy’s House for the same reason they chose Muskoka: they love it,” says Grady. “If there’s an option for them to be in Muskoka on the last stage of their journey, we would love to make that happen for them.”

The third pillar of the new health cluster is the Port Carling Lions Club’s long-sought seniors’ residence. Its 30 apartments will be for seniors who can live independently, with half the spaces designated as affordable housing.

Longtime community volunteer Susan Daglish, who leads the fundraising campaign with her husband Ted, says the facility will enable longtime residents (including seasonals) who can't care for their house or property any longer to still live in Port Carling. And easy accessibility to health-care and groceries right next door make the location ideal.

Daglish says each unit will have its own patio, with one side of the building overlooking the river, and the other opening into a landscaped area. “Both sides will be gorgeous,” she says. “People will be able to look out their window and see a deer or a fox walking by.”

The Lions have already raised nearly $500,000 to pay for planning and grounds-clearing. Since the 50,000-sq.-ft. residence is eligible for a CMHC mortgage, the Lions need to raise just $1.1 million more (CMHC requires a 15% community contribution). To avoid fund-raising fatigue in Port Carling, Daglish says they are they targeting “one to five really generous donors” to help them meet their goal.

Together, the Wellness Centre represents one of the largest projects in the Township’s history. The MLA is excited by its potential to serve so many needs and boost the year-round economy. Best of all, the co-ordination and co-operation of these three groups shows just how much a unified community can accomplish. As Daglish says, “We all get along really well. When one of the organizations gets a success, we all rejoice together.”

Rick Spence

The MLA encourages all residents of Muskoka to support these incredible projects. For more information, contact Allen Edwards at (705) 769-2214, Mary Grady at 762-3409, or Susan or Ted Daglish at 765-0330. You can also send a cheque to support all three projects to: The Brock and Willa Wellness Centre, c/o The Township of Muskoka Lakes, 1 Bailey St., Box 129, Port Carling, ON  P0B 1J0.