More services, space at health care centre 

Renovations and new equipment just the beginning

The Whistler Health Care Centre unveiled more than $830,000 worth of acquisitions and renovations at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 13, representing four months of construction and years of private and public fund-raising.

"It’s very exciting for us to see it all come together after so much work," said Fran Cuthbert, chair of the Sea to Sky Community Health Council. "This expansion would not have been possible without the contributions of our partners, the regional hospital district, the Whistler Health Care Foundation, and the Ministry of Health. We thank you."

The laboratory was moved upstairs to a space adjacent to the physician’s offices and down the hall from the Coast Garibaldi Health Services centre. Lab space more than doubled in the move.

The renovation also enabled Coast Garibaldi to open two new rooms for uses that include speech and language therapy, addiction treatment and mental health.

The purchasing department also doubled in size, allowing the centre to keep more supplies on hand for a workload of more than 100 emergency patients a day during peak season.

The expansion and renovation was largely done in a space that had remained unfinished since the centre opened.

By moving the lab and purchasing department upstairs, the centre was able to open a two-bed triage centre opposite the reception on the main floor, an acute treatment area where patients are constantly monitored before being treated or transported to a hospital in the Lower Mainland. It also provides an opportunity for nurses to assess patients according to need and clinical condition.

The total cost of the renovation was $680,000, $250,000 of which was provided by the foundation.

The foundation also contributed an additional $150,000 for an Ultrasound machine, which the WHCC will operate two days a week.

For health services co-ordinator Barb Kinnon, it was an important first step in a long-term plan that may see the health care centre eventually reclassified as a trauma centre. In the meantime, stage two expansions are in the works.

"I’d like to see another two beds added to the triage, and a room for minor procedures," says Kinnon. "The type of injuries we see in here on a daily basis certainly suggest the need for more acute care, like a trauma centre.

"When it comes to funding, it seems we have to wrestle for everything."

The WHCC is currently designated as a diagnostic and treatment centre, but local health care providers are finding that definition to be too narrow in terms of funding and services provided to the growing number and severity of cases that are coming through the doors.

A trauma centre would provide 24-hour service, and holding beds where patients can be monitored and observed. Currently the health care centre is only open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., although physicians and nurses are on call 24 hours a day.

"The volume in the lab has quadrupled in the last three or four years," says Brian Kines, CEO of the Sea to Sky Community Health Council. "In opening the new lab, we have made a huge difference."

While he acknowledged funding restrictions, Kines says he would like to see the second stage of the renovation – which includes the completion of an upstairs washroom, two more triage beds, and a procedure room – completed in the next year.

Kines also sees the need for more orthopedic services at the WHCC to handle all the cases involving bones and muscle tissue.

"We’ve sent a wish list to the Ministry of Health, and we’re waiting to hear back from them," says Kines. "It’s my understanding that we should have a reply to that this week, maybe tomorrow."

Last fall the provincial government announced $108 million in new funding as part of a new health action plan, and invited health care agencies across the province to submit wish lists by Dec. 31. The Ministry of Health will make their decision on each wish based on need.

The Whistler Health Care Foundation, which was created to find public and private sources of funding for the WHCC will continue to raise money although its original mandate – funding the renovations and purchasing an Ultrasound – was completed.

"It’s kind of exciting for us," says foundation treasurer Mitch Rhodes. "We’ve spent almost all of what I call ‘the old money’ and have about $50,000 left over. While we’ve been stepping back to let other charities, like the Millennium Place, do their thing, there are still people who wish to donate.

"A lot of foreign visitors after being treated here ask if they can make a donation, and we’re looking into making that easier for them. There’s still a lot we can do. For example we could use a C-Arm X-ray, which moves around on this arm and makes it easier to take X-rays, and they’re about $150,000."

According to Rhodes, there are a lot of new members who are committed to taking the foundation to the next level.

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