Pemberton SAFE clinic to become a reality 

As a burgeoning bedroom community, Pemberton is starting to develop some of Whistler's riskier bedtime habits.

Some of those habits are resulting in high rates of STD infections, unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

"There is such an association now with Whistler. It's a community with a growing transient population of sexually active adults, that the teens in Pemberton really need more education and services in terms of practising healthy sexuality," said Marnie Simon, the chair of the Whistler Health Care Foundation and SAFE clinic supervisor.

Throughout the past year, Simon has been instrumental in trying to establish a satellite SAFE clinic in Pemberton. The proposal has just been given the green light, in addition to a $2,000 grant from the Festival of Lights, for a one-year pilot project in the area.

The SAFE board will provide the remaining funds and resources to ensure the program lasts throughout the year.

"We're going to be forming an advisory board to see how the clinic progresses," said Simon. "At the end of the year we'll evaluate the project and then make the decision to see if the community wants to continue the clinic."

The Pemberton SAFE will operate in much the same way as the Whistler SAFE, with the same staff and volunteers. There will be a doctor and a public health nurse on hand to service drop-in clients.

The physician can do pap smears and STD testing as well as write prescriptions. The public health nurse can do HIV testing.

Like the Whistler SAFE, the satellite centre will also sell contraception and provide counselling for clients.

"I think if we didn't have the Whistler SAFE the statistics, particularly for STD's and unwanted pregnancies, would be much higher," said Simon.

Over the past year, the municipality provided $1,000 for a needs assessment of the project in Pemberton.

It was found that the various stakeholders, like the Whistler SAFE board members and staff and the SAFE clinic users who live in Pemberton, were in favour of having the services in their local community. Likewise, the youth, parents and health care providers in Pemberton were also highly supportive of establishing a satellite service there.

"There is a high incidence of unwanted pregnancy in Pemberton, particularly teen pregnancy," said Simon.

A focus group was held at Pemberton Secondary School in October in which 20 teens between the ages of 14 and 17 voiced their concerns and recommendations about establishing a SAFE clinic in the community.

Their concerns ranged from providing enough information about pregnancy options and pamphlets about the effects of drugs and alcohol to ensuring that all services were conducted confidentially.

"This will be running at a time when the regular doctors office will be closed," said Simon. "Confidentiality and privacy are key to all of this."

The clinic will run out of the Pemberton Public Health Centre every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m., beginning on Jan. 14.

Coast Garibaldi Health, the Pemberton Community Services and the Sea to Sky Community Health Council have given the SAFE permission to use their facilities there.

"I'm hoping it will be a big success," said Simon. "We're expecting it'll start off small. The budget is based on there being 50 clients in a month," she added.

When the Whistler SAFE started about seven years ago, Simon said they were lucky if they saw four people on a night. Now at the peak of the winter season, there are between 40 and 50 people using the services of the Whistler SAFE.

Located on the second floor of the Whistler Health Care Centre, the clinic is open on Tuesdays from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. and on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

"The numbers that we have proves that people are taking the opportunity we are offering them to take control of their sexual health," said Simon. "It has grown to such an extent that we feel the need is there to expand the service to another clinic in Pemberton."

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