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Health council making a list

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It hasn’t come in time to stop the general surgeon from leaving Squamish hospital for greener pastures in the U.S., but the Sea to Sky Community Health Council will receive a share of the $108 million in funding announced to support the government’s new health action plan.

Just how much cash this region will get, however, remains to be seen.

The Sea to Sky health council has been asked to prepare a wish list, broken down into the key areas for which the province has targeted funds. The local health council will be competing for the finite pot of cash along with other health regions throughout the province. Some of those regions may be deemed to have more pressing needs.

"We are in the process of putting a list together as to what we could do to improve things like service and access and the retention of nurses and physicians," said Sea to Sky Community Health Council CEO, Brian Kines.

"There are certainly many things in this corridor that fit within the initiatives announced by the ministry."

Key priorities for the Sea to Sky area include addressing an increased workload that has outpaced funding; difficulties in retaining nurses and other specialists; and seasonal spikes in volumes that are not accompanied by a parallel spike in funds.

"We are seeing more volumes in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish," noted Kines.

He said, for example, the workload at Hilltop House – the long-term care facility that serves the corridor out of Squamish – has increased.

"The residents there are much older than they used to be and the load is heavier, yet our funding structure remains based on the types of residents we had in the past."

Kines said the corridor also experiences challenges in recruiting nurses. "And its not just nurses – we have had great difficulty in recruiting an x-ray technologist for Pemberton."

The spikes in volumes are also a drain on resources but Kines said the ministry is now recognizing the fact that some health authorities do face seasonal volume fluctuations.

"That certainly is true in our corridor. In Pemberton we see additional volumes in the summer relating to tourism in the Pemberton area," noted Kines. "And, we obviously see massive spikes in volumes during the ski season in Whistler. In Squamish, we are seeing Vancouver hospitals fairly bogged down at this time of year and that causes us difficulties in getting patients into the city facilities. Sometimes we have to keep those patients and we are doing that with existing resources."

The Sea to Sky Community Health Council has until Dec. 31 to apply for a share of the $9.3 million earmarked for continuing care. A grant application is currently in the works, said Kines.

A deadline of Jan. 10, 2001 has been set to apply for funds to address nursing retention issues, and a cut-off date of March 31, 2001 has been set for applications that include things like the change in the roles of health care facilities.

Kines said the Whistler Health Care Centre, for example, qualifies for a grant application under the change-of-role category. He said the Whistler centre needs to be reclassified to recognize its role as more of a trauma facility.

The WHCC is currently defined as a diagnostic and treatment centre but the tag is too restrictive in terms of funding and services to handle the growing number and severity of injuries that come through its doors.

A trauma centre designation allows for 24-hour service and for holding beds where patients could be monitored and observed.

The Health Ministry, however, only recognizes two types of emergency health care facilities – D & Ts and hospitals – and it will be a long time before Whistler will meet the criteria needed for a 24-hour, full-service hospital.

The Sea to Sky health council has said it believes the answer is to lobby for a third category for the Whistler Health Care Centre.

This new category of emergency health care facility could take into account the nature of a resort community and the types of injuries sustained while skiing, snowboarding and participating in other high-risk sports.

"We are just at the stage of putting our thoughts down on paper," said Kines of the wish list. "I am hopeful but we will just have to wait and see what happens."

The neighbouring Sunshine Coast health authority, on the other hand, received word of some funding allocations by mid December.

The Sunshine Coast Community Health Council has been told it will receive almost $208,000 in direct funding for hospital equipment, beds and nurses.

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