Private surgical clinic gets mixed reception 

Proponents of a private surgical site in Whistler have recently been trying to win skeptics over to their side.

But some are not convinced that a private surgery in the municipality is the best way to go at the present time.

"Once you have a private surgery, you have no control," said Dr. Daniel Wallman, a doctor at the Whistler Health Care Centre. "It's ultimately set up to make money."

In place of a private centre, Wallman would like to see the government set up a day care surgery at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

"Then it's open to all people, not just those who pay," he said.

One of the main champions of the project however, says that everyone will have access to the proposed surgical centre, whether they can pay for the services there or not.

"We don't intend to even consider building a centre in Whistler that wouldn't be available to everybody. That would be highly unfair," said Dr. Mark Godley, who is the driving force behind bringing the surgical site to Whistler.

Godley said they are currently in discussions with the provincial government in order to get funding from the ministry to cover surgical procedures for local residents.

The False Creek Surgical Centre, which is based in Lower Mainland, has been actively pursuing building a satellite location in Whistler for the past two years.

Currently, those needing surgery must travel to Vancouver or Squamish in order to get the services they need.

"Last year, when we were reviewing the health facilities in the region, it seemed that we would never have a surgical facility in Whistler," said Garry Watson, the past chair of the Whistler Health Care Foundation.

"We don't have the space and the regional plan is to centralize it all in Squamish," he added.

But with the private proposal on the table, residents and visitors may not have to travel very far in order to receive the care they need in the future.

"Nobody is profiting from health care today. We're just an alternative way of delivering health care... The current system is not working," said Godley.

Godley describes the satellite centre as a three-way partnership between the region (government), the doctors and the private management company – all of whom stand to profit as the major stakeholders in the company.

By making the doctors stakeholders, Godley sees an excellent opportunity to keep doctors in Canada instead of watching the brain drain to the U.S.

As stakeholders, the doctors then become accountable for the delivery of services.

"You improve accountability and quality assurance. They stand to lose if the quality is substandard," Godley said. "It's a brilliant way of improving the system."

Wallman however is weary about this partnership.

He says the ski hills provide great opportunities to take money from foreign insurance companies and plough it back into the health care system.

"The money that False Creek would take from foreigners could go back into the system instead of (into) investors pockets," said Wallman.

Before False Creek builds a site in Whistler, Wallman would like to see the government set up a model for a two-tier system.

"It has to be solved at a political level," he said.

And while he remains unconvinced of the benefits of this private surgical site at the present time, he is interested in seeing a place in Whistler that can provide surgical procedures.

"I'm not in support of False Creek. I might change my mind if the government doesn't provide the services here," he said.

The proposal has already been talked about in council, said councillor Dave Kirk, but it is not a priority for the municipality at the present time.

"I am not prepared to say if I support it or don't support (at this time)," said Kirk, who sits on the board of the Whistler Health Care Foundation. Kirk said he is interested to hear the presentation from the False Creek staff that is soon to go before the board.

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