Medical centre heli-pad needs full time staff member 

Vancouver Coastal Health budgets $100,000 for new position

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Whistler's new million-dollar medical heli-pad, which is yet to go operational, will need to be staffed seven days a week, 12 hours every day at a cost of $100,000.

That's the word from the federal Ministry of Transportation.

"As per new federal requirements, all operational helipads in the province must have corresponding service attendant coverage on site during helipad operation hours," confirmed Trudi Beutel, public affairs officer with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH).

That means VCH needs to find an extra $100,000 in its budget to cover the position that will be on site at the Whistler Health Care Centre 365 days of the year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This comes at a time when the local medical community and politicians are asking VCH to dig deeper into its pockets to ensure orthopedic services in the corridor remain at current levels after long-time surgeon Dr. Pat McConkey retires in May. His replacement could cost up to $150,000 (see related story page 12). VCH has not yet decided if it will fund McConkey's replacement, keeping two orthopedic surgeons in the corridor.

As a stopgap measure, Dr. Bruce Mohr, chief of the medical staff at the Whistler Health Care Centre, said he had hoped any helipad service aide could be trained to help nurses and doctors in orthopedics when not needed to manage the helipad.

"It in no way replaces the fact that we'd like to have more orthopedic expertise," he said.

It is not clear if helipad service aides will be trained in that capacity.

During the day the newly hired service aid will manage heli landings. At night, security staff at the health centre would be used as the helipad service aides, said VCH.

"Given the number of hours required, there will be more than one employee covering off this function," Beutel added.

"Helipad service aides will ensure the safety of all landings and take-offs from the helipad.

The service aides will also inspect and secure all restricted areas during landing and take-offs, attend all flights in and out, perform routine maintenance inspections including overall responsibility for the fuel containment system. The position will also assume other duties to assist with workload within the clinic during the times they are not assisting with helipad functions."

The helipad has been down for almost a year now for upgrades.

During peak times in the resort it is used as much as ten times a week.

In mid-February it failed its second inspection from Transport Canada after pedestrians and motorists ignored the signals to stop, indicating a helicopter was coming in for a landing.

This week VCH said it could not give a completion date on the helipad until it knows all the design specifics.

"Planning and design for the enhanced traffic control system is complete and is now with the contractor," Beutel said. "Work on that system is estimated to take a week and is slated to begin later this week. (Design) work on the new pedestrian control system is close to final, and we suspect work on that system will begin in the coming weeks."

VCH's approved budget for the helipad is $948,000. It is not clear if that includes the upgrades needed since the failed inspections.

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