Millbrook Medical Centre – Community Asset or Liability?

Photo Karen Graham.
The Millbrook Medical Centre Board controls the future of this building which is owned by Cavan-Monaghan residents.

Early last month, the Millbrook Medical Centre Board hosted their Annual General Meeting for an audience of one.  The poor showing perhaps reflects a lack of appreciation for the building’s unusual role in the community.

The Millbrook Medical Centre was built in 1972.  A newly-minted General Practitioner, Dr. Van Loon had just arrived to take over the practice of Dr. Hobbs who was retiring.  There was no medical facility in the village at the time, and Dr. Hobbs practiced out of his home.   The Van Loons were renting an apartment on the main street.

The local Lions’ club took the initiative to provide a suitable environment for a medical practice and approached the government for funding for a new medical building under a program for communities in need.   Despite the fact that the funding window had closed, the applicants were told that if a plan was submitted within 48 hours, it would be favourably received. A young home builder scrambled to put a medical building plan together, and with funding approved, construction on the current facility proceeded.

Several municipalities participated in the construction and operation of the original building, including Hope and Emily townships, but over the years they have withdrawn and established their own alternatives.  The building is now owned by the residents of Cavan Monaghan and managed by an independent, volunteer Board of Directors, whose members include Janet Kennedy, Paul Haynes, Barry Humphry, John Fallis, Kathryn Grayson and Betty Hobson.  They define their mandate as one of managing the facility to ensure it is financially sustainable by collecting rent from tenants that cover the operating costs and repairs to ensure the building remains in good condition.  The building currently has three tenants: family Drs.Van Loon and Robinson, and dentist Dr. Lee.

To be clear, the municipality has no authority over the Board or the building and therefore have no representation on the board.

During the July meeting, Board members expressed concern about the condition of the building which is now approaching 50 years of age.  In the past, the community has stepped in to support significant capital outlays including the installation of the elevator, and surely more capital expenditures lie ahead.  While the community has expanded, new residents are not served by this facility- in fact, many existing residents must receive health care elsewhere.  More general practitioners are required.  In fact, Dr. Van Loon estimates that upon his retirement, the community will need five more family doctors to meet the growing need in the area.

The question is, in the recruitment of new family doctors to the area, is the current Medical Centre an attraction or a deterrent?

Most medical graduates are focused on launching their careers and seek a turn-key situation where they are supported by a modern facility equipped with current technology and surrounded by a strong medical support group.  More entrepreneurial types prefer to own a piece of the building in which they practise, so instead of paying rent, they are contributing to an appreciating asset whose eventual sale can help fund their retirement.  There are no obvious options for either alternative in Millbrook at the moment.

A family doctor shortage in a small community is not unique in Ontario.  In 2001, more than 5,000 residents were without a doctor in the Lakefield and Douro Dummer area, and that community took action.

That community established a foundation of local residents and business people managed by volunteers and after years of planning and fund-raising, opened the Morton Community Healthcare Centre in 2009.  With the support of residents, service clubs, churches, local entertainers and philanthropists, the foundation raised $4.4 million for the cause, with local and provincial governments contributing 20% of the facility costs.

The Morton Community Healthcare Centre now provides health care to more than 6,000 residents of Selwyn, Douro Dummer and North Kawartha townships through eight doctors, a nurse practitioner, a physiotherapy clinic and a foot health clinic.  Its revenue stems from the family health care practitioners, tenant businesses, paid, on-site parking, solar panel revenue and community donations.

Whether we follow the Lakefield model or develop a solution of our own, attracting more family physicians to the community is an issue that concerns all residents and one that might allow us to mobilize our entire community.  There’s a note in the BIA Welcome bag for new residents with a high probably of generating a response.

As for the original question?  The Millbrook Medical Centre is probably both.   It’s time to put our heads together and see how it can best serve the community moving forward. KG




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