While the community of Invermere isn’t losing its dialysis unit without a fight, the remaining equipment was removed from the hospital on Thursday, July 25th, following the removal of the reverse osmosis machine earlier this month (‘Dialysis unit moving to Sparwood,’ The Echo, July 10th, 2013).
“I can confirm that the equipment was removed,” Interior Health (IH) communications officer Karl Hardt told The Echo. “[Interior Health regional director of renal health services] Paula [James] explained why we made the decision, and all those reasons haven’t changed.”
The Invermere & District Hospital dialysis unit was servicing three patients before its closure. After one patient began home treatment and another lost their life, Kirk Sellers was the only person receiving regular treatment at the local unit before its closure.
“I’ve stated over and over again that we’re not in favour of this in terms of service to the entire Columbia Valley, so I’m quite disappointed,” said Mr. Sellers.
Since the local unit has been out of service, Mr. Sellers has been commuting to Cranbrook three times each week for treatment.
“I’m young and strong enough to drive, at least right now. But most people don’t have that option — they’ve been forced to leave already,” he said.
While IH has said the reason is a staffing issue, Mr. Sellers feels the health authority is misrepresenting the issue “time and time again.”
Pat Shuttleworth with the BC Nurses Union agrees, and claims that willing nurses were available for the job.
“I know someone who applied for it,” she said.
Ms. Shuttleworth applauds Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald for the petition of nearly 1,000 signatures he will be presenting in B.C. Legislature and his meeting with Health Minster Terry Lake. She also personally applied some pressure on Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.
“In some ways, it will affect his constituents too,” Ms. Shuttleworth said. “Bill Bennett may not be the local MLA, but there’s no reason why [constituents of the Columbia Valley-Revelstoke riding] can’t say to him that it affects everybody up and down the valley.”
She urges the community to keep the issue top of mind: “Just don’t let it die.”
And Mr. Sellers isn’t ready throw in the towel yet.
“Do we really want to keep losing services?” he asked. “We could work with our community leaders to advertise if we need to get more bodies in here, and the service should be maintained — not just for me.”
An Invermere resident of 45 years, Linda Hatt is also feeling the negative effects of the unit’s closure. Her brother, who resides in Kelowna and was planning to visit the valley in September for Radium’s annual Show & Shine car show, can no longer make the trip.
“He is a paraplegic and has been since he was 17, and he is on dialysis,” Mrs. Hatt told The Echo.
Her brother has had both legs amputated, one last year and the other as recently as three months ago.
“He was so thrilled, because he is feeling better now that his legs are amputated, because your heart doesn’t have to work so hard to circulate the blood,” she said. “And so he was going to come up to the car show this Setembeber and do dialysis here. It would have been the first time.”
Her brother started dialysis treatments about eight years ago. Alhough he has tried home treatments in the past, the difficulty of getting in and out of bed, plus the cleanliness of it, proved too challenging. He currently receives his dialysis treatments at Kelowna General Hospital three days a week, five hours a treatment.
“Another thing I don’t think people realize (is that) when you’re done, you’re so exhausted that you can barely get home because of what it takes out of you,” said Mrs. Hatt. “It doesn’t make you feel better, it makes you feel worse until the next morning, and so for someone, who lives here in the valley, to have to drive a long way to get dialysis is criminal.”
The one thing her brother, who is now 60, has lived for is working on his muscle car, she said.
“[Learning about the closure] was just so disheartening and this is just another story on the need to have a dialysis unit in this population,” Mrs. Hatt said. “The people coming to the valley who could take treatment here, to be able to have the freedom to come here.”
Shifting demographics contributing to a lack of patients, as well as advancements in home-treatment technology and staffing challenges, were cited by Interior Health as the major reasons for closure.
—With files from Nicole Trigg