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Health Care Centre busy over Christmas

Most visits, most emergency transfers in recent history

Staff at the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC) didn't get much of a holiday this Christmas. While the emergency room is always a lot busier when the resort is close to its capacity of 55,000, the number of calls was up 13 per cent over the 17-day Christmas period that kids are out of school. There were 1,224 calls in Christmas/New Year 2010-2011 and 1,408 in 2011-2012.

Comparatively, there were 1,143 calls in 2009-2010, for a two-year increase of over 18 per cent the same period the previous year.

The growth in emergency room numbers mirrors the growth in visitor numbers. Tourism Whistler announced this week that December 2011 was the busiest December in resort history for room nights. Room nights were up 12 per cent over last year and six per cent over the previous busiest December in 2007.

Janet Hamer, clinical services coordinator for the WHCC, said there were likely a few reasons they were busier.

"We think there were two reasons (for the volume)," said Hamer. "One is that kids had a big long break for Christmas. We're traditionally not that busy that week, but this year kids had a big long break before Christmas and so we were busy. And of course, the other is that nobody else has snow but us."

Of the total calls over the 2011-2012 holidays, some 484 originated on the mountain. Some 155 calls were brought to the WHCC by ambulance or helicopter.

The number of head injuries was up this year as well with 137 calls during the Christmas holidays, up from 100 in 2010-2011 and 114 in 2009-2010.

The majority of calls were for orthopedic emergencies, such as broken bones, pulled muscles and damaged ligaments. There were 653 ortho calls this Christmas, up from 568 in 2010-2011 and 560 in 2009-2010.

If a call is serious then patients are transferred from WHCC to hospitals in Vancouver by ambulance or by helicopter medivac. In 2011-2012 there were 45 transfers, up from 38 the previous Christmas and 25 the year before that.

Non-residents from out of province and out of country were also well represented. There were 560 non-resident patients this year, up from 349 and 333 the past two holiday periods.

When asked how the WHCC coped with the volume, Hamer said everyone just worked harder.

"We all worked really hard, but we coped," she said. "Sometimes we had a longer wait time than we would prefer to have, but all in all it's still way faster than any of the city hospitals, so we're quite proud of that — that we do a good job and provide care in a timely fashion here."

With an average of 82 emergency calls per day, there were times when they had to call in extra help to handle the workload.

Hamer said they would present the numbers at the upcoming budget meeting. Having statistics for recent years will help them make a case for calling in additional help during the winter season, she said.

"We'll be able to demonstrate that we need a little extra help (during the holidays). We can look at the times where we called people in for the workload, and anticipate that this might happen again next year."

While the WHCC is a daytime facility, they do provide emergency services overnight. However, Hamer said that the volumes in the evening were not unusual for this time of year, and that New Year's Eve — usually one of the busiest nights at the WHCC — was also relatively quiet.