Dialysis treatment at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has reached a critical stage, says the head of internal medicine at the hospital.
Dr. Kym Jim, a kidney specialist, says the hospital has reached its capacity to dialyze 120 patients and has been over capacity intermittently for the past six months.
Dialysis is an artificial means to remove waste from the blood of patients who have lost kidney function.
“Dialysis is a life sustaining therapy for which if you don’t have it and you need it, then you expire without it . . . It’s definitive.
“That’s why this is so critical because basically what’s happened is the Red Deer site has ran out of dialysis spaces,” said Jim.
The Northern Alberta and the Territories branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada is also concerned about the struggle for space for dialysis patients, said Flavia Robles, executive director.
“People need to understand that these patients can die while they’re waiting for the treatment. It’s chronic. The need is real,” Robles said.
Jim said there has been talk of busing patients from Red Deer to outlying dialysis units, probably in Stettler and Rocky Mountain House to accommodate the lack of space in Red Deer. He said this is a only one short term solution.
“Unfortunately this will be a tremendous hardship for some people to have to do this. So we’ll be asking for volunteers first, people who are able to travel. Beyond that, administration from Edmonton will be selecting which patients will have to travel due to a lack of space,” Jim said.
These patients will have to spend an hour and half travelling in each direction three times a week, spending four hours dialyzing at the site and spending half an hour getting ready to dialyze on top of that.
Jim said there are four available dialysis spots in Rocky right now. It is not known how many spots Stettler can afford to give up yet.
Patients will be advised on the specific details of the plan within the next couple of days or over the next week, Jim said.
The number of patients needing dialysis is swelling across the province, said Jim, noting a shortage of dialysis spaces in Edmonton and Calgary.
When the hospital reaches capacity, dialysis staff at Red Deer have been making it work by dialyzing already hospitalized patients in the hospital to free up spaces for some of the people who would typically use the outpatient facility.
“The difficulty is we’re out of space and we’re a long ways away from being able to get space in Red Deer itself because of planning difficulties really,” Jim said.
The Northern Alberta Renal Program plans to expand the provincial capacity for dialysis, said Jim, but that may take years to come to fruition.
“Planning for capacity has been ongoing but there’s been no approvals for plans yet,” he said. “The dialysis staff and physicians are very concerned about the situation and we’ll do all we can do to make things better but we’re limited with what we can do when we have no space.”
Robles says the kidney foundation says it is doing what it can.
“We hear from the social workers that support those on dialysis about the need for more beds, about them having to shift around and go to different units,” Robles said. “We’re advocating what we can do to help, which is provide some financial assistance. It doesn’t free up a bed, but it helps with travelling expenses for those who have to travel over 60 km or more for dialysis treatment.”
According to Robles, 4,500 Canadians are on the organ donation waiting list and 80 per cent of them need a kidney. The wait for a kidney transplant can be up to four years, she added.
With a kidney transplant, a patient saves over $200,000 over the first five years compared what they would be spending for dialysis treatment, said Robles. The average cost per patient for dialysis is $70,000 per year.