Successful summer events put strain on health system 

Growing impact has rippling effect on amenities, from village maintenance to local health care

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SEAN ST. DENIS COURTESY OF WHISTLER BLACKCOMB - Take off time Kelly McGarry feeling the air at Crankworx, one of Whistler's successful summer events.
  • Photo BY Sean St. Denis Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb
  • Take off time Kelly McGarry feeling the air at Crankworx, one of Whistler's successful summer events.

The Sea to Sky corridor's growing roster of summer events is putting increasing strain on the local health authority's budget to the tune of roughly $125,000 every year.

That's money over and above what Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is funded for, said Laurie Leith, coastal operations director for VCH. When combined with events on the North Shore and the Sunshine Coast and Powell River, that number rises to $185,000.

"We're feeling the impacts of these events and feeling the impacts of each year (as) they're getting bigger and bigger," said Leith.

Exacerbating the situation is the general summer busyness of the resort, as it reaches record room-night levels in recent years. That busyness is spilling over to the Whistler Health Care Centre. The centre is now as busy in July and August as it is in February and March.

Last summer VCH did an internal study of six major events in the corridor — the Pemberton Music Festival, Ironman, Crankworx, Tough Mudder, GranFondo and the Squamish Valley Music Festival.

On average, the smaller events like Tough Mudder and GranFondo had between a $5,000 to $10,000 impact on the health system while the larger events had a $25,000 to $35,000 impact.

Squamish Valley Music Festival had the biggest effect, with Crankworx a close second.

The former saw an influx of 75 patients to the Squamish General Hospital, despite a private heath contractor on site at the festival grounds. They either came directly to the hospital, bypassing the health care on site, or were transferred there because they required a higher level of care, or diagnostics not available at the festival's medical site.

Crankworx, meanwhile, accounted for 30 patients. Typically those patients are treated by patrollers on the mountain then transported to the Whistler Health Care Centre.

Ironman, on the other hand, had a "moderate impact." Twenty-five patients were seen at the health centre, typically in the late afternoon and evening. This spillover is the reason why the centre is staffed overnight for that event.

Those numbers alone don't tell the whole story — a patient injured at Crankworx could have a much different impact on the health system than a patient injured at a music festival.

"It plays an impact into what kind of staffing we have in place," explained Leith. "So we know that from Crankworx we're going to see more traumatic patients come in to the Whistler Health Care Centre, therefore, staffing has to reflect a higher level of care."

Multi-day music festivals also have added requirements from the health authority. For example, VCH must ensure a large component of what it calls "health protection" — things like making sure the drinking water meets standards — and that all impacts on the bottom line.

Armed with this data, VCH will be outlining its concerns to event organizers this coming season as the corridor heats up again with back-to-back festivals, concerts, and sporting events.

"Moving forward now we're trying to push even more so with the event organizers to do more pre-planning with them so we can synchronize our plans," said Leith. "Ultimately, the better medical plans they have in place, the less reliance they have on us."

The collaboration to date has been positive, she added.

Darren Kinnaird, general manager of Crankworx, isn't surprised by the data.

"Any time there's a large gathering of people, there's going to be more people buying gas, more people going to 7/11, more people eating in the restaurants, more people using the washrooms and more people using healthcare just because there's a larger volume of people," he said.

Don't forget about the other numbers too. The last economic impact study done on Crankworx was in 2010. It showed the 10-day mountain biking festival — the biggest gravity-fed biking festival in the world — had a $44.9 million spinoff in economic activity, with $22.8 million of that in Whistler.

It generated $11.8 million in tax revenues — $5.3 million in federal tax, $4 million in provincial.

"The benefits are many," said Kinnaird simply of the festival, a staple in Whistler's summer for more than a decade. and one that has raised the profile of Whistler worldwide.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, who is dealing with the same issues of increasing pressures on services at the municipal level, has another take on the matter.

The municipality has had to increase its village maintenance budget this year to cope with the growing business in Whistler.

While she is not familiar with the impacts on the local health authority's budget, Wilhelm-Morden can see the effects of the growing summer business — rippling effects from the local health care centre to the federal coffers, as Whistler generates more and more tax revenues to higher levels of government.

The events generate millions in economic activity for the corridor, and for B.C.

"It's all part and parcel of the continuing success of this product we have here in the corridor and in Whistler in particular," said the mayor.

"So to the extent that there are additional costs that go along with that success, the local health authority for example ought to be going to the province and saying 'Revenues are being generated out of the corridor by way of provincial and federal taxation increases, we need some assistance with our budget in dealing with that success.'

"I don't know that just because someone is successful in holding an event that brings more people to the community, should that event producer have to pay for increased health care costs? I don't know that that should be the case."

Leith said they would not be asking for more money from the province, but will continue to track the impact and related costs of the events to the local healthcare services.

Ultimately, the goal remains safe patient care.

"We will be approaching the additional costs like we do any other budget variance," said Leith. "We look at a variety of different ways of finding efficiencies in our service delivery without reducing front-line care."

Province encourages more events in B.C.

The provincial government wants B.C. on the map as a world-class event hosting destination.

To that end, the province is developing a five-year hosting strategy to support communities and organizations in making B.C. the destination of choice for sport and cultural events.

A provincial Hosting Toolkit is being developed that will help communities and organizations attract, manage and leverage events to boost tourism revenue and support economic diversification.

Coralee Oakes, minister of community, sport and cultural development, also announced a $250,000 one-time funding opportunity — EventHostBC — which encourages small events that strengthen volunteer capacity for event hosting throughout the province.

Eligible non-profits can apply for up to $5,000, awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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