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Grandpa coming to Yk denied dialysis
Family told critical hospital program at '100 per capacity;' can't treat visitors to NWT

Meagan Leonard
Northern News Services
Wednesday, June 10, 2015

For those who make the choice to move North, it often means leaving behind friends and family for long periods of time.

When Amanda and Brian Noseworthy relocated to the territory from Newfoundland eight years ago, the distance seemed less with regular visits from Amanda's parents Dunley and Anne Peyton.

Because Dunley has kidney disease, he requires dialysis treatment three times per week. In the past, his appointments were accommodated by Stanton Territorial Hospital with a quick phone call ahead of travel. However, last October Dunley e-mailed the unit ahead of the family's annual Christmas trip and received an unexpected response.

"I understand you have requested dialysis in Yellowknife mid-December to mid-January," wrote a co-ordinator for the NWT renal program. "Unfortunately, we will not be able to accommodate your request at this time. We have several NWT patients that will be starting dialysis and therefore do not have the capacity to accept visitors at this time."

Brian Noseworthy said the family was crushed, especially his father in-law.

"It was kind of devastating for (Dunley) because he's not the healthiest person," said Noseworthy. "He's not going to be around much longer and being told, you can't see your grandchildren? It's a pretty big thing for him."

The family ended up spending $10,000 to meet in Florida and decided to wait out the dialysis backlog figuring it would improve by summer. In the months following, the family stayed in communication with Stanton and the health department hoping a visit could be accommodated in June.

However, in March, Noseworthy said they received more bad news.

In e-mails obtained by Yellowknifer, the family was told by Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy the hospital likely could not accommodate Dunley's visit due to increased demand but he said a definitive answer could not be given until two weeks prior to travel.

"The dialysis program at Stanton is operating near 100 per cent capacity ... it is simply not possible to forecast months in advance what the schedule and capacity will look like," he wrote. "Requests for accommodation cannot be reviewed more than two weeks prior to his intended travel dates. I understand that this is frustrating for you and your family but it is necessary."

Once again they waited for the two week deadline and were told their request could not be accommodated.

"(Dunley is) very frustrated. I don't think he's ever ran across this before," said Noseworthy. "He travels all over the place and it's never an issue - just here, so he's a little dumbfounded ... he just can't fathom they would let it get to this point."

Earlier this month the Department of Health and Social Services published its Public Performance Measures report, which stated prevalence of diabetes - the number one cause of chronic kidney disease - had grown by more than five per cent in the territory with 79 cases out of 1,000.

The dialysis unit at Stanton currently has 13 patients and a waiting list of 11 to 14 pending entry.

There are five machines available and nurses work 12-hour shifts, six days a week. With the territory reporting well over 500 people with known kidney problems, including 50 with late stage kidney disease, this is yet another example of poor planning for an aging population, says Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny.

"There's a lot of issues here with renal failure, it begs the question, what are we doing to give us a bit of a buffer in that area?" he said.

"You never want to be in a position in health where you're at maximum capacity. It's not a safe place to be."

Although $98,000 was committed to the dialysis unit through the federal Territorial Health Sustainability Initiative in 2014, Doylnny says he expects the issue will not be dealt with until the Stanton renewal project gets underway.

"Nothing in the budget seems to have been looked at in terms of increasing dialysis units or personnel," he said. "Working toward that is great but it could be three or four years down the road before the (new) unit is open to the public - so what do you do between now and then?"

Because the department does not seem to be making any progress, Noseworthy said his family is now considering moving out of the territory.

"I think this will likely lead to us leaving Yellowknife," he said solemnly. "We've lived here for eight years and enjoy (it) but if you can't have relatives visit their grandchildren here, it's not a place you can live."

Hay River also has a dialysis program that accommodates seven patients. A previous unit in Fort Smith closed in 2009 due to staff shortages.

Yellowknifer requested to speak with Abernethy but was told he is travelling to Toronto and could not comment.

Officials with the Department of Health and Social Services had also not commented by press time.

NNSL photo/graphic

Dialysis accommodations by city

Hay River, population: 3,600

Currently serves seven dialysis patients and has enough resources for nine. The clinic is easily able to accommodate visitors as long as they call ahead.

Whitehorse, population: 27,000

Yukon Hospitals in Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake do not have dialysis services. Patients requiring treatment must go to Edmonton or Vancouver.

Grand Prairie, Alta., population: 55,000

Queen Elizabeth II Hospital can provide treatment to visitors if it is arranged with the clinic ahead of time. The unit is able to treat 12 people per day.

Peace River, Alta., population: 6,700

The Peace River Community Health Centre offers dialysis services a few days a week. It is able to accommodate visitors with a referral from the patient's physician.

Source: Yellowknifer survey

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