Invermere dialysis unit to close

Permanent closure of unit serving Invermere and Golden questioned by NDP.

After $15 million in public funds was spent by the Liberals on an advertising campaign as part of the BC Jobs Plan, on the same day it was announced that the Invermere dialysis unit would not be re-opening due to lack of financing, and NDP MLA Norm MacDonald questioned the Liberals’ priorities.

BC NDP leader Adrian Dix has charged that the advertising campaign is only to improve the Liberals’ re-election chances.

“Many people in this area will be forced to travel vast distances for dialysis services a number of times every week,” MacDonald said in a press release. “It’s simply not acceptable for even more services to be removed from this area… It’s hard to take the government claim that there is simply no money to provide this necessary service when government is currently spending millions on advertising with the sole purpose to try to convince you to vote for them in May.”

In speaking with The Valley Echo, MacDonald said, “They’ve got to fix that. It’s not a lot of people, but it’s not a huge cost either. They should fix that very quickly. I’m surprised they haven’t addressed it sooner.”

According to Interior Health, however, the dialysis unit closed for a different reason.

“The unit was not closed because of money, that’s number one,” regional director for renal services for Interior Health Paula James explained. “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. So that has been very difficult — we’ve been temporarily closed a number of times and it’s been difficult from a Human Resources perspective, from a staffing perspective and particularly for the renal patient that don’t know if it’s going to be open, closed; it’s kind of been up and down because it’s the only unit in B.C. that’s staffed with only one nurse.”

In regards to the staffing issue, James said a dialysis unit requires specially trained nurses who are in great demand.

“So it had nothing to do with money,” she said. “It was definitely because of ongoing challenges with human resources and such.”

James said there are different options for renal patients, and independent home dialysis is one of them.

“It’s actually an effective alternative to having facilitate renal dialysis, because the patient can receive the dialysis on their own in their homes where they’re supported with equipment, nursing, and whatever else that they need to do that,” she said. “There’s no cost for the patient to do that and it definitely is a viable option for the majority of patients on dialysis because it not only supports their independence with managing chronic kidney disease, it also supports excellent renal care because they can dialyze longer.”

With home dialysis, patients can dialyze all night long and have better outcomes for their renal disease, versus being limited to four hours in a renal unit — making it the preferred treatment.

“Invermere has one renal patient at this time who’s waiting for transplant,” said James. “And so, the patient’s challenged with the travel and I can certainly understand that, but again, the home options are certainly an alternative rather than driving for most patients.”

She said there are currently patients in the community undergoing dialysis at home.

James  promotes the use of TeleHealth at the Invermere Hospital, which provides comprehensive services available over the phone.

“The patient will come to the Invermere hospital and through TeleHealth and a nurse on that end with the patient, they’ll be able to link in with a nephrologist in Trail, the social worker, the dietician, and the renal nurse and the doctor can actually do a physical examination of the patient through Telehealth,” she said. “There’s actually, for example, a stethoscope where he could hear the patient’s chest and see the patient through video.”

Because the rates of renal disease in the Interior Health Region have declined, James said it’s unlikely the unit will re-open in the near future.

“Looking at what our future renal growth is, there in a lack of growth for that area as well, so we don’t see it changing, which is a good thing — [it] means that people are healthier or not coming on board with renal disease,” she said. “And so in saying that, the renal patients that are on home treatment are well supported as well as our patient that is travelling to Cranbrook at this time.”

Asked if a Golden patient with renal disease would have to seek treatment in Cranbrook, James replied, “If it was a new patient coming on initially, yes. So if you have a new renal patient, they always have to go first to where the full renal program is. For Interior Health, a full renal program, there’s one in Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton and Trail.”