Dialysis petition heads to Victoria

Almost 1,000 signatures protest removal of dialysis unit from Invermere

A petition with almost 1,000 signatures against removing the dialysis unit from the Invermere & District Hospital has made its way into the hands of Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald.

Mr. Macdonald, who met with Interior Health president and CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny on July 10th to discuss the controversial health care service removal, told The Valley Echo he’ll be taking the petition to Victoria.

“We’ll enter it into the legislature,” he said. “It’s a significant number of people — I think there are 937 names on it.”

His meeting with Dr. Halpenny was “encouraging,” Mr. Macdonald said. “He completely familiar with (the issue). No promises, but he’ll put fresh eyes onto it.”

The Valley Echo reported on July 10th that equipment from the Invermere dialysis unit — the reverse osmosis unit — had already been moved to Sparwood Hospital and it was just a matter of scheduling before the rest of the equipment followed.

Mr. Macdonald also had a meeting scheduled with B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake for Monday, July 22nd, and encourages members of the public, even those who have signed the petition, to take the time to either phone into the ministry or write emails, and continue to push the issue.

“We’re into a period where there are going to be more health care cuts inevitably simply because of the budget that was presented,” he said. “There is a growth in the amount of money that’s going to be spent on health care and there is a growth in the money that is coming to Interior Health, but it doesn’t match the cost pressures.”

What this means is that inevitably the government will be looking for cost savings and, in the past, rural B.C. — especially smaller communities in rural B.C. — have been hit particularly hard, he said.

“These services are important, not only to the health of the population, but there’s an economic importance to them as well,” Macdonald said. “People move to communities that have good education and good health, and are reticent to do so if they see those services being diminished.”

“We really have to be clear that these are services we value and that collectively we’re going to fight for them.”

The petition was organized by friends of Kirt Sellers, one of the two patients receiving dialysis treatments in Invermere when IHA announced the unit would be leaving the valley.

“I went around town, I talked mostly to the business community,” said one of the petition organizers, who wishes to remain anonymous. “I realize that this is emergency  equipment, a life support system, and I don’t understand what Victoria and Kamloops don’t get about that.”

“The distances (IHA expects dialysis patients to now drive) are unbelievable when your health is compromised and you have a chronic illness,” she said. “This is infrastructure that has been here for a very long time and we can’t have it taken away.”

The petition is mainly signed by residents of the Columbia Valley, from Canal Flats through to Radium Hot Springs, said Mr. Macdonald.

“So the petition is significant if you think about the number of residents we have in the lower valley,” he said. “Of course it impacts us here in Golden as well, although not as directly because we don’t have somebody local who is using it right now, but we’re in the service area.”

According to Mr. Macdonald, Golden council has passed a motion against the unit’s removal and has sent a letter, there has been unanimous concern by all local governments in the Columbia Valley, and the East Kootenay Hospital in Cranbrook has also indicated they have a problem with the decision.

“We can win this,” said Mr. Macdonald.