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Corridor partners rally for orthopedic care

VCH to decide by April 30 if retiring knee surgeon will be replaced



The Sea to Sky corridor needs another Dr. Pat McConkey, mending the worn-out and weary knees of many a skier and snowboarder.

That's the message from a chorus of community voices, from Whistler's mayor to the president and chief operating officer of Whistler Blackcomb and many doctors and physiotherapists in between. They are appealing to the region's health authority on the eve of the renowned knee doctor's retirement.

There appear to be no plans to replace the local knee surgeon, operating out of the Squamish General Hospital, leaving the corridor's orthopedic work to Dr. Alexandra Brooks-Hill.

But just one orthopedic surgeon servicing the corridor could mean longer wait times for residents and guests and a patchy continuity of care in orthopedics, as city surgeons rotate in to help cover the care. It could also squash the dreams of some in the medical community of seeing the corridor become a centre of rural excellence in orthopedics

"We're in danger of actually stepping backwards," said Dr. Bruce Mohr, chief of the medical staff at the Whistler Health Care Centre, which saw almost 8,200 orthopedic injuries last year — 43 per cent of all emergency room visits.

Backwards isn't an option for community partners.

Even if it costs more.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) benefits financially from the Whistler Health Care Centre to the tune of more than $1 million annually.

That's a fact not lost on Whistler's mayor.

"Vancouver Coastal Health don't like to spend money in the corridor, they currently get paid quite a bit of money (from the corridor) especially the (clinic) which is a bit of a cash cow for them," said Nancy Wilhelm-Morden at an emergency meeting of the Sea to Sky Regional Hospital District (SSRHD) on Monday called to address this issue of succession planning in orthopedics.

After writing a letter to VCH earlier this month, specifically addressing Dr. McConkey's retirement, among other things, Wilhelm-Morden met with the top brass at VCH including the health authority's CEO and the director for this region to express her concerns in person.

"Of course, as a personal injury lawyer I see the issue first hand because many of my clients are on a waitlist for orthopedic surgery of one type or another, and I think to a person, each of my clients would say they'd much rather have that kind of orthopedic surgery conducted out of Squamish General Hospital by a doctor who will not only be conducting the surgery, but following up with them," said the mayor. "So there's a whole consistency of care, there's the provision of local services. It is very much a quality of life issue."

Squamish councillor Patricia Heintzman convened the hospital district emergency meeting Monday.

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