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When the Mountain Resort Associations Act was proclaimed last week the province made it clear it wants more places like Whistler. The legislation allows other mountain resorts to use the "resort municipality" designation that Whistler has, until now, had exclusive use of, to create resort associations and to designate resort improvement districts. The clear implication is that these are tools that have helped Whistler become successful, therefore they should be available to places like Sun Peaks, Panorama and Big White to help them grow and to further B.C.’s profile as a province with multiple destination ski resorts. But while the Mountain Resort Associations Act recognizes some of the unique characteristics of mountain resorts, other provincial policies do not. For example, the Whistler Health Care Centre is classified as a diagnostic and treatment centre, rather than a hospital. A hospital is open 24 hours a day, does major surgery and is capable of holding patients overnight. The Whistler Health Care Centre has kept patients overnight, although that is not part of its mandate, but it is only open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. If emergency medical treatment is needed outside of these hours doctors and medical staff are on call and can respond quickly. The Health Care Centre operates much like a hospital in terms of emergency care, but there is no "emergency" entrance or ward. The argument is that a town with an official population of 5,000 (according to the last census) only needs a diagnostic and treatment centre and that the larger, more expensive hospitals should be in bigger towns where they serve a larger population. But Whistler’s actual population is probably closer to 6,500, and on any given day the town could be playing host to 30,000 people. Last year the Health Care Centre had more than 17,000 patient visits — an average of more than 46 per day. The suggestion is not that the province magically come up with millions of dollars to build another new facility, rather that it revisit the services the Whistler Health Care Centre is providing and the needs of an active population of locals and visitors. The Health Care Centre has unfinished space available for expansion, maybe that area could be finished and the definition of a hospital loosened up so that the centre could be open 24 hours a day. Being in a destination mountain resort Whistler’s Health Care Centre clearly does more than a typical diagnostic and treatment centre. Medical facilities in other mountain resorts, that are expected to grow under the Mountain Resort Association Act, will likely experience similar phenomena. It’s an opportune time for the Ministry of Health to look at updating the way it defines hospitals and medical facilities.

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