There are no immediate plans to expand the dialysis unit at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre despite it currently operating over capacity, says a provincial government official.
“At this particular moment in time, there is a little bit of over capacity,” said Matthew Grant, press secretary for Minister of Health Fred Horne. “There’s nothing in the books at the moment, to my understanding, as to expanding the unit but they are taking a look at more home dialysis.”
The province is exploring options, Grant said, and understands that home dialysis is very case specific and will not work for everyone.
Red Deer can treat 120 dialysis patients per week and has been seeing around 123 or so in recent months, Grant said.
Dialysis, an artificial means of removing waste from the blood of patients with kidney disease, means the difference between life and death.
To meet the growing demand, there has been talk of Alberta Health Services transporting some patients to outlying units in Stettler or Rocky Mountain House or using more hospital beds for dialysis.
“These are band-aid solutions. If we were given the green light now to plan and build a new unit, we’d still be looking at a year, realistically two, to complete that,” said Dr. Kym Jim, a kidney specialist and head of internal medicine at Red Deer Regional who is calling for a new unit.
Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said she is aware of the high demand for dialysis right across the province and has discussed the situation in Red Deer with Horne.
“We’re working on the opportunity to have more people have dialysis in their own home,” she said. “We’re working on it as we know the demographics and know the demand will continue. At the same time, we’ve made a lot of requests here in Red Deer and have been granted those requests. For example, the cancer treatment centre . . . and two dedicated operating rooms for the maternity floor because of the increased number of caesarian sections.”
Jablonski said she believes there has been a good response from the government to the needs in the community.
“This is now something that has been brought to our attention and the next place we will put our emphasis on.”
She said she would put her support behind a new dialysis unit in the city if it was determined that was what was required.
The Renal Dialysis Rimbey Support Group has been advocating for a satellite dialysis unit in the Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre for the past seven years.
“We’ve seen this coming for years,” said the group’s spokesperson, Irene Lovell of the lack of dialysis space in Red Deer. “We’ve gone every route we could but NARP (Northern Alberta Renal Program) has been a big stumbling block for us . . . We’ll be speaking with Alberta’s Ombudsman when he visits Lacombe on Wednesday so we’re not giving up.”
While home hemodialysis (dialyzing at home) is a rational alternative and a way to combat the lack of space in the units, it is just not for everyone, Lovell said.
“You take someone who is 80 years-old and they’re supposed to be responsible for sterilizing their equipment and all the other things required during home dialysis, it becomes more complicated.”
Through home hemodialysis, patients loan the machines for no extra cost but do notice their water and electricity bills go up. It also takes longer than the treatment in the specialized unit, requiring six to eight hours per session, six times per week compared to the typical four hours three times a week in the hospital.
June Norvila has been making the 45 minute commute to Red Deer for the past 11 years for her husband Paul’s dialysis treatment. The couple live halfway between Rimbey and Bentley. They have been farming for decades but in recent years have had to rent more land out as they grew older and the dialysis treatment took its toll.
Norvila said they’ve seen other rural patients risk their lives on the highways for dialysis, with a few dying in fatal accidents.
“We’ve always had to travel and then all of a sudden the urban patients might have to travel and it becomes big news,” Norvila said. “The staff in Red Deer are wonderful and they do all they can with what they’ve got but a bigger unit or another unit in Red Deer doesn’t address our situation or the parking problems.”
She said 12 dialysis spaces in Rimbey could make a huge difference and be used in emergencies for patients from Red Deer as well.
“Regardless, we need something to happen, not for someone to keep saying they’re working on it.”