Tina Lumbis of Red Deer has been going to the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre three times a week for the past 11 years for dialysis treatment.
Lumbis, who has a rare form of kidney disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis, needs the treatment to remove waste from her blood. Without it, as with everyone else on dialysis, she would not survive.
The 29-year-old said she’s been noticing an increase of traffic through the dialysis outpatient clinic over the past year.
“It does look more and more like every spot is full,” she said. “I’ve seen people go to another unit in another location because Red Deer is getting so full. They (Alberta Health Services) have put notices out before, asking people if they can travel to other units instead of Red Deer.”
Space isn’t just filling up at Red Deer Regional for dialysis patients — it’s now completely run out.
And the problem is only going to continue to escalate, says the head of internal medicine at the hospital, unless there is some long-term, serious planning for a new dialysis unit in Red Deer.
“It is still being decided whether patients will be transferred or required to drive on their own to outlying dialysis units. They are also looking at closing inpatient beds within the hospital to handle this demand, thereby putting more pressures on emergency,” said Dr. Kym Jim, one of two kidney specialists in Red Deer. “The problem with those options is you’re not really solving the problem. It’s just getting deferred and deferred because the real problem is Red Deer needs a new dialysis unit built. No decision has yet been made on that.”
Red Deer is now over its capacity to serve 120 dialysis patients and has been over intermittently for the past six months, Jim said. It’s not an isolated situation, with dialysis doctors and staff scrambling to meet the growing numbers of patients in Calgary, Edmonton and various other spots across the province.
The rate of those needing the treatment goes up each year, said Jim, due to the aging baby boomers and other contributing health factors, especially the growing rate of diabetes.
“That is the crux of the matter; we know the population needing dialysis is going to continue to grow and that we need to add dialysis capacity but there have been planning issues that have led to that capacity not being added appropriately,” said Jim. “We’re going to wind up spending money unnecessarily when it should just simply be being directed to a new unit.”
Alberta Health Services says it has been watching and monitoring the dialysis situation closely in Red Deer.
“We’re currently looking at options to expand the services in the Red Deer area. There are a number of things we can do: creating additional spaces and looking at other forms of dialysis, such as treatment at home,” said Deb Gordon, vice-president and chief health operations officer for Northern Alberta at Alberta Health Services.
“If we do have to ask a patient to travel, we’ll make sure that we work with them to try to limit that travel and make it as easy as possible.”
As to a new dialysis unit, Gordon said there is no question the numbers are growing and that AHS will continue to watch the situation.
“If necessary, yes, we will be looking to create additional capacity in the community,” she said. “We’re dealing with the capacity issue in real time right now as it happens, patient by patient, and we’ll keep doing that.”
Gordon added that if someone is asked to travel for dialysis, it will only be temporary.
Blair Domoney, 75, has been monitored by the local renal clinic for the past 10 years due to various kidney issues. He is not currently a dialysis patient, said his wife, Sharon, but the couple was recently told he could soon need the treatment.
“He is in what is called end stage renal failure but he, as of late in the last few months, has had other medical issues and these could force him into dialysis momentarily — it could be tomorrow, a month from now or a year from now. … He is hovering on having to have dialysis,” said Sharon. “You can only imagine how much pressure this puts on a senior couple to be first told that and then to be told there is no room for more dialysis patients.”
The Domoneys, who are retired and live on a pension, say they chose Red Deer to be close to a hospital and avoid long, expensive drives for medical care.
“The fact is, with treatment three times a week, four hours each time, if you can’t have your dialysis in Red Deer where you live, that doesn’t leave much of a life,” Sharon said.
There is an option of dialyzing at home — known as home hemodialysis — but it requires more dedication than treatment at the hospital three times a week. Home dialysis usually calls for six to eight hours per session, six times per week. It is also expensive as it requires patients to have their own supplies and dialysis machines or loan the machines.
Lumbis tried dialyzing at home but said it took up too much of her time. She said she finds it easier to go to the hospital, especially as she lives in the city.
“It’s still trying. You do it for four hours. You’re tired when you’re done so it affects the rest of your day,” she said.
Lumbis isn’t working as she said it’s hard to find a job that works around her dialysis schedule.
However, things are looking up for as she recently found a friend who is a match for a kidney donation after being on the wait list for an organ donor for longer than she can remember.
“We’re just waiting for the type of kidney disease that I have to go into remission so they can give the go-ahead,” she said.
“But what’s sad to see is there’s more people out there waiting for an organ than there is of those willing to donate … I’ve seen so many die before they get the chance of a transplant. It’s rough when you see so many people come and go in the unit,” she said.
According to the Kidney Foundation of Canada, there are 4,500 Canadians waiting for an organ transplant and 80 per cent of them need a kidney.