Group outraged over dialysis unit’s closure

Thu, 05/03/2012 - 11:59

 By Jim Brown and Cindy Chant


We had no warning at all,” said Alberton dialysis patient Trent MacDougall, 50, of the Province’s decision to move Western Hospital’s hemodialysis services to Summerside as part of a major consolidation process involving four hospitals.

The process to be completed by Oct 1.

“It was a shock,” said Trent, one of as many as eight West Prince men and women getting their blood cleansed three times a week for several hours a day at Western Hospital.

He found out only hours before the news hit the airwaves last week.

“Nobody talked to us prior to this. Nobody,” he said.

Trent said he was informed by a hospital official while he was undergoing his dialysis.

“We don’t even have a date. I asked them when and (he was told) the fall.”

Though he owns a car, travelling to Summerside represents a huge inconvenience, said Trent, who has been on dialysis for less than three months.

“I couldn’t take myself (to Summerside). I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving for that length of time,” he said.

The process is simply too debilitating, too fatiguing, for him to drive long distances. A two or three minute trip to Western Hospital and back is about all he can handle.

“I wouldn’t want to be driving back from Summerside just after dialysis because of fluctuations in my blood pressure and I get very dizzy,” he said.

When he first learned about the services offered at Western Hospital his immediate response was: “This is great, at least I don’t have too far to go.”

Trent went on to say although he has family in the area, it is difficult for them to accompany him to dialysis treatments because of work and other commitments.

It’s not just a commitment spanning one, two or even three trips. It’s something that must be continued for perhaps the rest of his life, barring a kidney transplant.

“And safety is a factor in the winter time,” said the Alberton patient, adding he can make the trip to and from Western Hospital during severe storms because it is only a short distance from home.

Trent warned dialysis patients will likely have to cope, sooner or later, with having to be stranded in Summerside during bad weather. They may be forced to stay overnight in hotels.

Trent, whose kidneys were reduced to less than 10 per cent of their function due to complications from diabetes, is not able to hold down a full time job because of his weakened condition. But he considers himself lucky to have a small disability pension.

He was quite lucky in another way. He was able to secure the last of eight spots in the dialysis program comprised of two sessions a day - one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

“There are elderly people there. I really feel for them. They (will now) have to go an hour earlier than usual. Definitely it’s a safety issue in the winter time.”

He noted, however, at least two patients living in the Tyne Valley area, now receiving dialysis at Western, will travel a similar distance to Summerside, perhaps even shorter.

Trent said he can’t understand why the services around for only five or six years were being transferred to Summerside.

“We just got it going and the government acknowledges there’s going to be more of a demand for kidney dialysis. Why would you get rid of something you already have?”

The Alberton patient said he is very impressed with the level of care he has received from dialysis staff at the hospital. 

“I just don’t understand. There’s no issues at the facility. We have four machines up here, we can (accommodate) eight people and that’s only three days a week. If we doing the same as Summerside we could take more.”

Unlike many other procedures and appointments where patients have some flexibility in terms of scheduling and travel, that isn’t the case with dialysis.

Dangerous fluids can build up in a dialysis patients’ blood stream that have to flushed within a short period of time. Waiting for blizzards and other storms to pass simply isn’t an option, he said.

Meanwhile, Andrew MacDougall, the Health PEI’s acting executive director, home-based long term care, acknowledges a number of patients will face some challenges, but every effort will be made to ensure they get the best care possible in an institution boasting the latest medical technology and resources.

Prince County Hospital’s dialysis department is being expanded to serve a maximum of 54 dialysis patients from the current 24. Services are also being consolidated at Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital with the expected move of five patient seats to the hospital from Souris, bringing the total number of dialysis patients served in the province to 138 from the current 79.

Mr MacDougall said rising rates of diabetes and heart disease mean that demand for hemodialysis units will continue to grow in coming years and steps have to be taken to prepare for that onslaught of new patients.

Basing hemodialysis services in large hospitals offering more resources and clinical staff to help patients with “multiple” medical needs, is a big part of that effort, he said.

Several West Prince residents are concerned about the changes and realignment of health care services announced April 25 by Health Minister Doug Currie and Health PEI CEO Keith Dewar. With the impending closure of the dialysis clinic a public meeting will be held Thursday, May 3, 7 pm at Western Community Curling Club, Alberton. 

“Many lives count on this unit for survival,” said organizer Nancy Hamill.

Organizers ensure the meeting will be proactive, productive and peaceful. 

According to Ms Hamill, “It is paramount that we have a dialysis clinic in West Prince. Dialysis appointments are crucial for patients’ lives. They are never supposed to skip an appointment, even if it’s a snow storm. Those long winter drives would be horrific for a patient. With gas prices high, traveling to dialysis appointments would become quite an expense for these families. These patients have adjusted to four to six hour treatments...three times a week...another two hours of travel time each visit would be detrimental. It would also force families to move to Summerside and leave existing family help behind.”

Ms Hamill is not just an organizer of the meeting, she knows first hand the consequences of moving the dialysis unit from Alberton to Summerside. Her dad is on the list to receive the weekly treatments.

“My dad is in kidney failure and is presently unable to walk due to hip degeneration and extreme arthritis. Aside from the “normal” stresses of day to day with my father, he is 78 years old and will be starting dialysis sooner than later...I am scared. He cannot handle the drive to Western Hospital let alone Prince County Hospital,” she said.

“We were always told that our sick and vulnerable will be looked after on PEI...this is not looking after dialysis patients. With the swipe of a pen many families on PEI must be in turmoil after hearing this upsetting news. This is unacceptable. It’s just one more important service taken from our area,” said Ms Hamill.

Government plans to close two dialysis clinics in rural hospitals will be discussed. The public meeting will be moderated to allow residents to voice their concerns and start the process of saving the dialysis clinic in the community. 

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