The fact that the Whistler Health Care Centre helipad is still not operational would be laughable, except there’s nothing funny about the possibility of a life being lost due to its extended closure.
Let’s not forget that the helipad was closed for the upgrades mandated by Transport Canada in early August, with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) claiming that it would re-open more than a month before the ski season began — or even earlier.
Well, we’re now less than two weeks away from the lifts on Blackcomb being shut down for the summer. So where is our helipad?
The entire process of making upgrades to the Lorimer Road facility has been one giant delay, so it was refreshing to see members of Whistler council question why that’s been the case during Tuesday’s (May 15) meeting.
Last week, VCH announced that little concrete flakes were to blame for the latest delays and that a consulting engineer would need to be brought in to assess the issue. Believe it or not, that might be the least ridiculous thing we’ve heard from VCH as this project has been bumbled along.
Remember, VCH officials knew prior to the Olympics that Transport Canada would require upgrades if helipad operations were to continue as normal. Yet they decided to keep that to themselves until October 2010 — mere weeks before Transport Canada’s deadline to either make the improvements or face a downgrading of the pad.
Then, there was VCH questioning “the mentality of drivers” in Whistler when motorists ignored their first attempt at a traffic signal — which was really nothing more than a single red Christmas tree light, hanging 20 feet above the roadway — despite testing it without the presence of an actual helicopter taking off or landing.
So it seems that all we’ve seen from this project to date is a wag of the finger from VCH on our driving habits; an intersection at Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road that’s become “confusing”, as Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden put it; and a huge section of trees cut down next to Day Lot 4.
Of course, all medical air traffic is directed to the municipal heliport located 10 kilometres north of the Village, and that extra travel time could potentially be the difference between life or death for a seriously-injured skier.
And while there have been no recorded incidents this winter season in which that’s been the case, VCH officials should be thanking their lucky stars that there haven’t been. Good luck explaining to a deceased’s family members that “spalling” was the reason their loved one couldn’t be flown directly to the Village clinic.
That might sound a tad dramatic. But consider that a Whistler Health Care Centre employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Question in December 2010 that they were concerned someone might die if the upgrades weren’t made quickly. At that time, there were only restrictions on what types of aircraft could land there. It wasn’t the complete no-fly zone that it’s been for this entire ski season.
We hope that the questions raised by council on Tuesday aren’t the last directed VCH’s way. Our elected officials need to continue asking why this important piece of medical infrastructure has been entirely useless for the past nine months, and VCH needs to be held accountable for this ongoing screw-up.
At the very least, let’s hope this helipad debacle is placed in the ‘What Not To Do’ file for future VCH projects. It might just save a life.