Opinion » Editorial

Keeping the heartbeat of community healthcare beating



Nothing is scarier than getting a call telling you that someone you love is hurt.

Like most reading this column I've had a few of those — hard to live in a resort with so many amazing opportunities for sport and not get those calls.

Let's see, two broken arms, broken wrists, concussion, broken fingers... hmmm, I think that's all.

On one day in 2011, I got not one call from Whistler Blackcomb patroller Cathy Jewett, but two about my kids! The first thing she said on the first call was that it was not a head injury, nor a spine injury — it was a broken wrist. I rushed from work to the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC).

As I sat there and comforted my daughter, then 12, Cathy called again — this time it was my son with a concussion.

As I went to the reception area the lovely and helpful clerk asked me, "Do you have any more kids skiing on the mountain today?"

"No," I said. "They are all here now."

She looked relieved.

That was a long day, but when we finally got to go home I knew both kids had received the best care possible.

That's a common experience according to the patient satisfaction surveys carried out since 2007 at the Whistler Health Care Centre — which this month celebrates 20 years of looking after residents and visitors alike.

"They're always rating it between very good to excellent care," Laurie Leith, operations director coastal for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the province's largest health authority of which Whistler is a part, told Pique.

"But I think the amount of years that Whistler has sustained those kinds of results is probably unique to them."

When the broken arms happened — one on each child — not the same day, not even the same year, thank God, I knew we would have the best possible outcome. Both were serious, but as the doctor spoke to the children he recalled their favourite activities from previous visits, explained what was happening in language they understood to help them cope with the fear, and squeezed my arm in understanding after I returned from a good sob down the hall where the kids couldn't see me.

In my son's case, a break that likely would have required surgery could be set in Whistler due to expertise in orthopedics rarely seen in a town of only 10,000 residents.

Last year the WHCC treated 18,500 people — in 1993 that number was 13,000

Broken bones and orthopedic work continue to be the bulk of the centre's work at more than 40 per cent.

There is a deep understanding here that the health care centre is a critical part of the equation of living in Whistler. It is one of the heartbeats of our community.

And it's not just about what we need. There is a realization that with the resort's focus on outdoor play, summer and winter, and the growing focus on extreme sport festivals the health care centre is playing a critical role in the success of Whistler for everyone.

Accidents can happen anywhere — on the mountains, along the trails, at the lakes, in the backcountry, at events, even in a nightclub.

And in Whistler's case I would argue that how we handle those accidents is as much part of the traveller's experience as the visit.

Vacationers are coming here, whether for an event, or just to experience the offerings of the resort, and though it may not be explicitly stated they come expecting a high level of health care — and that is what they get.

But as the resort grows busier and busier 12 months of the year — 2.5 million annual visitors — stakeholders in delivering medical services are responding. Vancouver Coastal Health, the Ministry of Health at the provincial level, the producers of events and event hosts, such as Whistler Blackcomb all have a role to play. It's time to put money on the table.

Discussions are underway so let's hope that everyone at the table, and perhaps even those who are still unconvinced of the need to participate, reach a consensus as festival season approaches.

After all Whistler generates $1.1 million a day in tax revenue; $1.3 billion per year in GDP and has annual tax revenues of over $405 million. And 22.5 per cent of the entire annual tourism export revenue of British Columbia comes from Whistler.

Let's hope the provincial accountants and the provincial health officials share notes.