At least one Central Alberta patient has been permanently relocated outside of Red Deer for regular dialysis treatment as the unit continues to grapple with a critical space situation. More transfers are expected.
Dialysis treatment at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been operating at its capacity of 120 patients for several months.
Dialysis is an artificial and imperative means to remove waste from the blood of those who have lost the function of their kidneys. Without the treatment, which takes four hours in hospital and is required three times a week, many would not survive.
Alberta Health Services officials say they are aware of the space crunch and continue to monitor service levels in Red Deer.
“When dialysis is at capacity in Red Deer, we may have to ask patients to travel to access the care they need,” said Deb Gordon, vice-president and chief health operations officer for Northern Alberta at Alberta Health Services.
She noted other locations where patients can receive treatment in the Central Zone include Wetaskiwin, Drumheller, Drayton Valley, Rocky Mountain House, Olds, Stettler, Vegreville and Lloydminster.
June Norvila has been making a 45-minute commute to Red Deer for 11 years for her husband Paul’s dialysis treatment. They live on a farm halfway between Rimbey and Bentley. On April 4, they were told they would have to go to Rocky Mountain House for all further treatment.
June Norvila wasn’t keen on the drive west with icy winter roads so she asked to be relocated to Wetaskiwin instead — a difference of only eight km or so, she said. The request was granted and her husband spent most of his 75th birthday on Tuesday at his first dialysis appointment in Wetaskiwin, 115 km from home.
He will now have to make the hour and a half journey three times a week.
“The staff are welcoming and nice but they don’t know us or our 11-year history with dialysis,” June Norvila said. “His overall health is really being compromised and put at a much greater risk. He has other medical issues that make the extra travel particularly hard, too, not to mention the extra stress on both of us and family.”
Dr. Kym Jim, one of two kidney specialists in Central Alberta, has been calling for plans for a new dialysis unit in Red Deer.
“There’s been no announcement as to a plan for an expanded dialysis unit. No additional funding has come forth. Basically people are being asked to move to other dialysis units in Stettler, Rocky … the letters are going out now,” Jim said. “We’ve received very little response from our MLAs. … Overall it’s a difficult time for patients.”
June Norvila is a member of the Renal Dialysis Rimbey Support Group, which has been advocating for a satellite dialysis unit in the Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre for the past seven years.
The proposed $44-million hospital parkade project in Red Deer baffles her when there is a bigger need for dialysis patients.
“There is no space in Red Deer for a bigger unit, we’re told. Well why not put some chairs in an outlying area like Rimbey where parking is free? Wouldn’t that help?” she said. “I think they’re finding it a lot easier to make people drive farther and watch those places get up to capacity as well. … It’s a sad, frustrating, unhealthy system where people are only a file number, not people.”
Alberta Health says as dialysis is a specialized service, it is not one that is easily or quickly expanded to other communities.
“In communities where it is not offered, we work with patients to ensure they get the treatment and care they need as close to home as possible,” said Gordon.
The province is also pushing for more home hemodialysis as it can provide “the best outcomes and quality of life and eliminates the need for patient travel,” Gordon added.
However, home hemodialysis only works well for a small number of patients, Jim said.
For June Norvila, it’s not a possibility as Paul also has Parkinson’s and would not be able to handle his own needles. The home process also requires a special water filtration system and extra room for the machine.