The statistics are alarming — the level of STD's and abortion rates in Whistler are among the highest in the province. And amidst the glitz and gloss of being North America's number one ski resort there are people who need help.
They need someone to talk to, someone to listen, a place to go for confidential help, referrals and inexpensive birth control. All of those support services exist in Whistler in one form or another, but until now they have not been focused under one roof.
And as a dedicated group of local health professionals and concerned citizens forge on toward the opening of Whistler's first-ever free sexuality drop-in centre, they wrestle with the main question — "We know there's a problem, how do we get people to want help?"
The people who need help are the residents of Whistler, young and old, who are or have the possibility of being sexually active in a day and age when being sexually active can make you pregnant, sick, or dead according to Maureen Simpson, program co-ordinator at the yet to be named facility.
Set to open its doors in the Whistler Health Care Centre in early March, the free centre was born out of the findings from a focus group held in Whistler last April. The task was to determine the steps necessary to try and prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies in Whistler and to make suggestions for solutions. The resulting group, Whistler's Healthy Sexuality Committee, has been working on getting the ball rolling on the new centre.
Simpson, a registered nurse, who has been living in the corridor since August, says the time has come to make a directed effort to not only address sexuality problems in Whistler, but to set up a support network to proactively deal with the causes and effects of high abortion and STD rates.
"Our early aim is to try and improve the sexual health of people in Whistler by providing accessible, multi-disciplinary services on a confidential basis," Simpson says. "We will be relying on the major employers in town to get the word out and we're relying on everybody in the community to help set up this support network."
The aim of the centre, Simpson says, will not be to expose a dark side of the resort and dwell on the negative effects of a young, energetic and transient community from all around the globe, but to provide a hub with which to focus forward-thinking programs and healthy alternatives.
The centre has already received approval to become a branch of Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The centre will also be home to Whistler's first ever Sexual Assault Team, made up of a doctor, a counsellor and an RCMP officer trained in the follow-up on sexual assault cases. Another focus will be to provide inexpensive birth control to those who can't afford it or don't have adequate medical coverage.
"There's nothing you can say to people to make them practice safe and healthy sexual behaviour," Simpson says. "We can give them the tools and the framework to make those healthy decisions."
Marilyn McIvor, public health nurse with the Coast Garibaldi Health Unit says the centre will provide an umbrella for sexuality service in the community that is necessary.
"I hope this facility will help prevent some unwanted pregnancies and help people get information on STD's," McIvor says. "In the long run it will be an asset to the health of the community as we provide services like free HIV tests and Hepatitis B vaccine."
According to Simpson the centre will not become a reality without the financial support of the Whistler community.
"We are trying to give something to the community here, something good, something necessary," she says. "But we are all going to have to work together to make it sustainable."