Dialysis unit removal gets 90-day reprieve

Unanimous political pressure results in reconsideration of move

After local, regional and provincial politicians expressed their dismay towards the removal of the community dialysis unit at the Invermere Hospital, Interior Health has agreed to a 90-day freeze on its moving plans, and will hold a special meeting with the board of Kootenay East Regional Hospital District (KERHD).

“It’s pretty positive news,” said Mayor Gerry Taft of the announcement made on Friday, February 8th. “It seems like we’ve got their attention.”

The issue of closure was discussed during a Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) meeting in Cranbrook on February 1st, where there was unanimous support from the whole board to send a strongly-worded letter to the Interior Health Authority and the BC Renal Agency, the body which funds dialysis service.

A similar motion was also unanimously passed at the District of Invermere meeting on January 22nd, where mayor and council agreed to write a letter challenging Interior Health’s decision to remove the dialysis unit.

Serving as both the Mayor of Invermere and the Vice Chair of the RDEK, Taft combined the two letters, and says he, “made a pretty strong business case on the impacts to local residents.”

The letter was sent to Premier Christy Clark, Health Minister Margaret McDiarmid and many others.  With the 90-day delay in place, Taft said he is optimistic about the fate of local dialysis.

“Instead of having to be so political, we can try to work on logistics and see what can make it work. As long as were at the table and talking with Interior Health, I think we can make it work.”

Another letter which also firmly opposes the relocation of the Invermere Dialysis Unit, written by MLA Norm Macdonald, was sent to BC Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid.

“The need for this facility remains, and will grow in the future. To close this clinic at this time is the wrong decision,” Macdonald’s letter summarized, after reminding the Minister of the abundant opposition throughout the region.

Macdonald’s opponent in the upcoming provincial election, Liberal MLA candidate Doug Clovechok, told The Echo that closing the dialysis unit, “didn’t sit well with me from the beginning.” After contacting Interior Health and the Invermere and District Hospital to research the dialysis unit’s removal, Clovechok says he was told that a staffing issue was the root of the cause, not money.

Unsatisfied with the response, Clovechok phoned John Kettle, the chairman of the Interior Health Board, “and he didn’t know about it, he said. “Which I found was really odd ­- the chairman of the board wouldn’t know what’s going on?

The KERHD board, where Kettle serves as chair, also voted unanimously in disapproving Interior Health’s relocation of Invermere’s Dialysis Unit. Kettle said the health authority almost always consults the KERHD board regarding issues that could adversely affect the involved communities

“Somebody had a misstep and I think we’re going to be able to resolve it,” Kettle said. “It makes no sense to pull a unit out and then have to backfill it when the demographics change.”

Shifting demographics are the reason behind the decision to move the dialysis unit was from the valley, re-iterated  Interior Health regional director of renal health services Paula James.

“We’ve had quite detailed discussions and conversations about the sustainability of the unit with limited patient volume, and right now we only have one renal patient, and ongoing staffing challenges,” she said. “One reason for a declining renal patient population has to do with home treatment; it’s actually an effective alternative to having facilitate renal dialysis. There’s no cost for the patient to do that.”

All training equipment and supplies, supply delivery and home technical support costs involved in home peritoneal dialysis are covered by the BC Renal Agency, explained Interior Health spokesperson Karl Hardt.