Health Ministry commits to upgrading Whistler facility
Whistler’s medical clinic could be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, possibly as early as late next year.
Fran Cuthbert, chair of the Sea to Sky Community Health Council, said the Ministry of Health has agreed to review the Whistler facility prior to the next budget cycle, which begins next April.
"I asked for a commitment from the deputy minister; was it fair to say that Whistler would be re-classified before the next budget cycle," Cuthbert said last week. "He said ‘yes.’"
Health Minister Penny Priddy, in response to questions in the legislature from West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, said on June 29: "In terms of the diagnostic and treatment centres, I can’t tell you at this stage — nor, I guess, would I be the best person to do that — exactly how it will be resolved. But I have made a commitment to you in the House here to review it. We are in discussion with your health council about it."
Re-classification would mean the Whistler facility, which is currently classified as a diagnostic and treatment centre, would become a Level 4 trauma centre. As a diagnostic and treatment centre the clinic’s emergency centre is open only from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. After hours emergency calls are directed to an on-call doctor who can meet patients at the clinic.
As a Level 4 trauma centre the Whistler facility would be open all the time and would have holding beds, where patients could be monitored and observed. Cuthbert said the level of service and the number of employees at the health care centre would "increase dramatically" once the facility is open 24 hours a day.
However, a significant capital upgrade of the health care centre will be required before it is ready to operate around the clock. The entire first floor would be turned over to medical care facilities, while space on the second floor which has never been finished would house records, some administrative facilities and other functions.
The community health council, which is responsible for the four health care facilities in the corridor — Squamish General Hospital, Hilltop House and the Whistler and Pemberton diagnostic and treatment centres — is in the process of hiring a consulting firm to review the long-term capital plans for the whole corridor.
A three-year capital plan for health care in the corridor will be submitted to the ministry next April.
"They want to make sure we have a plan in place for the whole corridor, not just Whistler," Cuthbert said. "But they have agreed to have Whistler reviewed prior to going to budget.
"I think we have the ministry on side now. For a while there we were talking to a brick wall."
Compared to other diagnostic and treatment centres around the province, Whistler is in a league of its own. In 1998 Whistler had just over 21,000 admissions. The next busiest diagnostic and treatment centre was Fraser Lake, which had 4,600. The same year Whistler had 415 ambulance transfers to hospital emergency wards. Chemainus was the second busiest diagnostic and treatment centre, with 242 transfers.
Cuthbert said when the Whistler Health Care Centre does become a 24-hour a day facility it will not lose the ability to transfer critical and high-level trauma patients to Lower Mainland hospitals.
"Every hospital has the ability to transfer patients out if it doesn’t have an adequate level of care. Hospitals can not refuse you," she said.