Rimbey-area residents continue to call for dialysis treatment to be available at Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre.
Paul Norvila, 71, of Bentley, has been travelling to Red Deer Regional Hospital three times a week for dialysis for about eight years.
Dialysis cleans blood by passing it through a machine for people with lost kidney function.
He said it takes 45 minutes to an a hour to drive to Red Deer from his farm north of Bentley, while Rimbey is only 15 to 20 minutes away.
“The conditions, some days, are not very good to drive,” said Norvila recalling thick fog one day last week.
After the four-hour dialysis treatment, it’s back on the road and most of the day is gone, he said.
“I drive in and my wife drives back out,” said the senior citizen who also worries about vehicle upkeep and gasoline costs to drive back and forth to Red Deer.
He fears in a few years he will have to disrupt his life and move to Red Deer to make dialysis more accessible.
“I’ve been here all my life.”
Kathy Tachynski, patient care manager with Northern Alberta Renal Program which co-ordinates dialysis from Red Deer to northern Alberta for Alberta Health Services, said there’s no discussion right now about Rimbey hospital getting dialysis.
But Red Deer has applied to Alberta Health Services to operate three more chairs to make it an 18-chair hemodialysis unit.
“We’re staffed for 15,” said unit manager Carol Lindner at Red Deer Regional Hospital where the unit is running six days a week at full capacity.
Before the unit moved into its larger space in 2005, it had 12 chairs.
Currently, 99 people receive dialysis in Red Deer.
“We’re funded for 90 so we go a little bit over our funding each pay period.”
The only way to deal with the patient load is to send people to Rocky Mountain House Health Centre which has a 12-chair dialysis unit. Rocky has 14 patients and could accommodate four more people.
“If somebody can drive to Rocky or lives on the west side of the city than I will offer them dialysis in Rocky. But if there are reasons why that is inconvenient or impossible for them, then we don’t do that,” said Lindner, who also runs the Rocky dialysis unit.
Tachynski said each spring Northern Alberta Renal Program reviews its budget. The program must look at “the big picture” in terms of where is the need the greatest in Northern Alberta.
“Right now, we’re not approved to have additional positions filled because we’ve been mandated a certain budget and we have to work within the budget we’ve been given,” Tachynski said.
Howard Stevens, 77, of Sylvan Lake, who received dialysis in Red Deer on Wednesday, said he’d love to have dialysis in Sylvan Lake, but understands the restraints of the health care system and appreciates the Red Deer staff.
“I was pretty close to failing my eye-sight test. As soon as I lose my licence, I’ll make the move into Red Deer.”
“I know some days (the nurses) must be down, but they’re always cheerful when they meet us patients. We always leave here with a feeling of well-being, that they care for us,” Stevens said.
He’s been getting dialysis for about two years. So far winter weather hasn’t forced him to reschedule any appointments.