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Health services under pressure during busy summer

Crankworx puts doctors and nurses to the test, questions raised over ambulance response time



Whistler needs a high-tech hospital on wheels and a beefed up ambulance service, for major events like Crankworx and high volume long-weekends, according to local doctors.

That could be one of the biggest lessons learned from Summer 2013 — jam-packed with festivals and events with more room nights booked than ever before in June and July.

Both Whistler's mayor, Nancy-Wilhelm-Morden, and the Whistler Health Care Centre's chief of staff, Dr. Bruce Mohr, plan to raise the issues as de-brief meetings on the summer take place with resort stakeholders.

During Crankworx this year, said Mohr, doctors, nurses and paramedics at the Whistler Health Care Centre were stretched to the max dealing with one successive major trauma after another on one day in particular — despite doubling doctor coverage for the festival.

"It was dealt with. It was safe. But boy, one more for example, it would have been tough to deal with," he said.

"You have events like this where it's almost for sure there's going to be major trauma, and yet the capability isn't increased. It doesn't make any sense."

Said Wilhelm-Morden: "We have very serious injuries coming off both the bike park and the terrain park and they've got to be dealt with."

If that means more funding from other sources to beef up ambulance, or for other health care funding, so be it, she said.

"The amount of tax revenues that come out of this town to the provincial and federal levels of government, there's got to be a

quid pro quo," said the mayor, adding that medical and ambulance services are typically "top-drawer."

Added to this concern over capacity, a Pique investigation this week revealed two separate incidents of slow- or no-show ambulance service this summer.

Chris and Rachel Walter waited for almost an hour for an ambulance to respond to their 911 call on Sept. 1.

The Walters were playing golf at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on the Sunday of the Labour Day long weekend (Sept. 1) with their four-year-old son and Rachel's father.

On the 10th hole, one of the furthest from the clubhouse, one cart drove into the other, wedging Rachel in between and causing a significant gash down her right shin.

"For sure," said Chris Walter from Vancouver, when asked if he was concerned about the response time. "Ultimately, we had stopped the bleeding, but if it had carried on bleeding obviously an hour would have been a long time, really. We would have had to try something else."

While a medic with the golf course responded fairly quickly, it was about an hour before the ambulance arrived at the scene. The Walters tried to stay calm for their son's sake, and ward off shock despite the gaping wound and growing fears that the bone was broken.

"We got the leg elevated," said Walter. "We stopped it bleeding. We spoke to the paramedics and they just said 'keep it raised, keep light pressure on it.' They gave us advice and guidance on what to do. So it was just waiting really, trying to keep calm."

Wilhelm-Morden couldn't help but express her concerns upon hearing the Walters' story, particularly after reading a recent letter from the Four Seasons, detailing similar concerns. Except in that case, the ambulance never showed up.