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$4.5 million mobile medical unit coming to Whistler for Olympics



Olympic sponsor General Electric is rolling a mobile hospital into Whistler to treat injured or ill athletes and officials during the 2010 Olympic Games.

Officials unveiled the state-of-the-art mobile medical unit at Vancouver General Hospital on Friday morning. The $4.5 million tractor-trailer should move to Whistler sometime next month.

"This is a tremendous event for people in Whistler, in particular," said Peter Robertson, general manager of General Electric (GE) Healthcare Canada told Pique Newsmagazine.

"This is really putting a very sophisticated treatment centre in Whistler for the Games with a tremendous amount of surgical capability. It will really serve as an enhancement to the health care community for the duration of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games."

GE's unit is built with high-quality diagnostic and patient monitoring equipment as well as an operating room with two surgical beds. The tractor-trailer also has expandable sides so medical officers can increase the 15.9-metre unit to a total size of 90 square-metres.

Staff with the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) won't drive the medical unit along Whistler's streets during the Games, explained medical director Mike Wilkinson.

Because transportation will be so tight in the resort municipality during the Olympics, he said the unit will be stationed next to the polyclinic at the athletes' village for the entire Games period and staff will bring patients who need care directly to the village.

This is the first time GE has donated this type of equipment to an Olympic host.

"If anything was to happen to an official or an athlete in Whistler, a 60-minute trip to Squamish was defined as a real problem," he said about why GE and VANOC decided to build such a high-end unit.

Robertson also stressed that the tough economic times haven't caused GE to reduce its contribution to the Games.

"The thing you want to focus on now is we have a long-term commitment to the Olympic Games," said Robertson. "Rather than take the snapshot point of view, I think the company takes the longer term point of view on something like that."

After the Games, the provincial government plans to purchase the unit from VANOC. Neither Robertson or Wilkinson could say whether components from the mobile medical unit will stay in Whistler.