Change slow for Whistler Health Care Centre By Andrew Mitchell If you plan on 'going big' this winter, you might want to bring a book. If the current trend of population growth and tourism growth continues — and statistics indicate that it will — you can expect to wait up to three hours in the emergency room to see a doctor. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the Sea to Sky Community Health Council held their second annual open house meeting at the Whistler Health Care Centre to keep the public informed on the current state and future needs of health services throughout the corridor. "As a corridor, were united," says Fran Cuthbert, Chair of the Sea to Sky CHC. "We have a common vision, at the forefront of which is increased funding. We will continue to lobby the politicians, but in the meantime we have a busy health service to administer to." Last year was a record year for Whistler-Blackcomb with more than 2.13 million skier visits. The number of mountain bikers, hikers and climbers to the village in the summer has also increased steadily in recent years. And the area's population is growing in leaps and bounds — preliminary estimates indicate that the current population of Whistler will increase by 17 per cent by 2003. All that adds up to an increased burden on the Whistler Health Care Centre (WHCC). Over the last fiscal year, from April 1998 to March of 1999, the WHCC saw a record 28,954 patients, 21,150 of which were emergency cases. The number of emergency cases increased by more than 2,000 over the 1997-98 numbers. During the winter months, it was not uncommon to treat more than 100 patients over a single day — all with just nine full-time physicians on the payroll. The heroic efforts of the staff have earned the WHCC the "Award of Distinction — Customer Focus" from the Quality Council of B.C., but little in the way of extra funding. "We are reaching maximum capacity during peak periods," says Russell Hemingson, the current Health Services Co-ordinator for the WHCC. "The opening of the (Whistler Medical) Clinic in 1996-97 slowed the demand for health services for a few years, but those demands are continuing to increase, and increase considerably." The re-opening of a medical practice in Creekside this winter, along with extended hours by doctors whose practices are located in the Whistler Health Care Centre building, is expected to ease the flow of non-emergency visitors to the WHCC, but can do little to help with the growing numbers and costs of providing emergency services. In last year's financial period, the Sea to Sky CHC went more than $560,000 over budget providing health services. The provincial government contributed $400,000 to help with the shortfall, but the council would like to see the provincial government recognize the cost overrun in future budgets as the cost of doing business in a growing community. One of the biggest problems that the Sea to Sky CHC has in making budget requests of the provincial government is that the figures that the politicians see when distributing the money are over two years old, due to a discrepancy between the Sea to Sky CHC's fiscal period and the provincial government's. "The Ministry of Health's funding formula presently is slow to recognize shifts in ferial patterns and population increases," says Cuthbert. "As services are enhanced and brought closer to home, and as the population of the Sea to Sky Corridor continues to grow dramatically, the negative impact on this health authority are profound." In terms of social services, for example, such as programs for alcohol abuse and adult mental health, the Sea to Sky CHC estimates that the current funding is only 20 per cent of the benchmark. Rather than let the current state of under-funding continue, the Sea to Sky CHC has proactively hired two consulting firms, KPMG and the RPG Partnership, to assess the long-term needs of health services throughout the corridor and generate a funding plan the reflects the needs of the community. Due out at Christmas, the Sea to Sky CHC will use the recommendations in the health services and capital plans they must submit to the Ministry of Health by June 15 of next year. In the meantime, budget requests from the Sea to Sky CHC concerned upgrading the heating and air conditioning systems in the area health centres. Requests for extra funding from the Ministry of Health this year were limited to facility and equipment upgrades.