Locals involved in overseeing health care in the Sea to Sky corridor expressed qualified praise at last week's news that a new orthopedic surgeon will be hired for the region -part of what's being called "expanded" orthopedic services for residents and visitors.
The plan for changes to the service was brought about by the recent the retirement of the corridor's longest-serving orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Patrick McConkey.
"It all sounds great. It obviously has to be tested with the implementation," Patricia Heintzman, chair of the Sea to Sky Regional Hospital District (SSRHD) board, said in response to the May 30 announcement.
Marnie Simon, chair of a committee made up of members of the corridor's three health-care foundations, said members of the "triboard" have been working for the past several months to convince VCH officials to expand orthopedic services, not claw them back.
"Our voices joined those of the health care professionals, politicians and other stakeholders in making our needs known to the VCH administration. It is gratifying to know our voices were heard and that positive action has followed," Simon wrote in a letter distributed to the media.
McConkey's retirement left the corridor with just one resident orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Alexandra Brooks-Hill. At the moment Dr. Sally Clark is filling her shoes while Brooks-Hill is on maternity leave, Dr. John Maynard, VCH senior medical director, said on Monday (June 4).
VCH officials plan to launch a search for a second, corridor-based orthopedic surgeon in the next couple of weeks, Maynard said. If all goes well, the new surgeon should be able to set up practice here by this fall, he said.
Notices advertising the position will stipulate that the surgeon will set up practice in either Squamish or Whistler, Maynard said.
"We already have applicants who have expressed interest because, of course, B.C. and the Sea to Sky corridor are amazing places to live and work," Maynard said.
The timing of the hire and timing of the new surgeon's arrival depend on how many applicants the selection committee reviews and on how much notice the new person needs to give her or his current employer, if he/she already has an established practice, he said.
In addition to the second, corridor-based orthopedic surgeon, Squamish General Hospital will see more of its available operating-room time dedicated to orthopedic surgery, covering a greater range of procedures including fractures of the collarbone, kneecap, ankle and forearm, VCH officials said.
The Whistler Cast Clinic -located at the Whistler Health Care Centre -will also see enhanced services, with consultations and follow-up appointments offered by surgeons from Squamish and Lions Gate hospitals, officials said.
The thrust of the initiative is to provide a greater range of services within the corridor so that fewer patients have to travel to the North Shore or further afield to receive service, VCH officials said.
"The overall result will be more seamless, timely and quality orthopedic care that will fit the unique needs of Sea to Sky residents and visitors," Wendy Hansson, VCH chief operating officer, said in the statement.
Heintzman said she views the increased operating-room activity as a positive move for patients.
"I think they've realized that we have underutilized surgical capacity in Squamish -not just staffing, but the facility," she said. "We have operating rooms but they're underutilized, underbooked. We could have a lot more surgeries up here if we have more surgeons."
Maynard said that in some cases the local surgeons might take on elective surgeries of an orthopedic nature if there's operating-room time available at SGH.