Feature Story                                                                                             Saturday January 21, 2012


The Long and Winding Road

Chilliwack dialysis patients call for unit to be setup at CGH

Staff/Submitted and file photos/Revised Jan. 23


Patients say travel to Abbotsford Regional Hospital on Hwy. 1 is treacherous at times, and because of that some have to miss appointments. The photo above was taken opening day of the Chilliwack General expansion.


ost of us take driving to Abbotsford from Chilliwack for granted. If the highway is shut down due to snow or water, or if there's an accident, we can put off the trip. But if you’re a dialysis patient who needs treatment, and the closest unit is at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital, then sometimes this can be a life or death situation.


Earlier this week, a handful of Chilliwack dialysis patients hit a major rut in the road and missed appointments after the city took a one-two punch of snow Tuesday followed by high winds Wednesday. Travel was treacherous and roads were closed all over the city. Hwy. 1 was littered with abandoned vehicles in the ditch and median.


Dialysis units are far and few between in the Fraser Health Region. Aside from Abbotsford, the only others are located at Royal Columbian and Surrey Memorial for patients who are mobile.


Fraser Health Authority (FHA) spokesperson Roy Thorpe-Dorward told the Voice in an e-mail that, although some people couldn’t make their appointments, the numbers weren’t high.


“With the bad weather and roads this week, a couple of clients have missed their appointments and had to rescheduled their appointments at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) in-center this week due to weather; one client missed their appointment at the Abbotsford Community Dialysis Unit due to car trouble,” he said.


“Currently, there are 24 patients in Chilliwack and beyond (out to Hope and Agassiz) that attend our ARH in-center dialysis unit, these patients cannot attend a community unit based on acuity of their condition; 13 Chilliwack patients attend our Abbotsford Community Dialysis Unit.”


Morris Wugalter safe and sound at home in Chilliwack.


Thorpe-Dorward encourages dialysis patients to stay with local family or friends if possible when they can’t make appointments due to poor weather, or some other unforeseen circumstance. He suggests HandyDart and Taxis as alternatives, however the latter can be cost-prohibitive for patients.                                              


According to Thorpe-Dorward, if someone can’t make it to an appointment, Fraser Health staff will offer advice on diet and fluid management until they can get in for treatment which they will try to reschedule for the same day or the next.


“For patients, who are medically stable, independent dialysis is often the best option for patients to consider and one that we encourage. Currently there are 23 patients within Fraser Health on home hemodialysis, and approximately 250 on peritoneal dialysis, also a home-based treatment,” he said.


Home hemodialysis patients are trained for 6-weeks on how to do the treatment themselves. Dialysis at home can better because it can be done more often or for longer periods of time and as a result, patients get more intensive treatment over the course of a week. After training, patients go in for regular check-ups and receive ongoing support.


This is more convenient and also better for the patient, when medically appropriate. Independent dialysis options provide better long term outcomes and offer patients greater flexibility as they are able to dialyze at home when it fits best with their schedule and lifestyle.


“These patients still require access to medical care but can manage their own day to day care and visits to the dialysis unit would typically be done on a quarterly or six month basis,” explains Thorpe-Dorward. “Almost 700 individuals across the province are thriving on peritoneal dialysis and 136 on independent hemodialysis.”


There are several types of dialysis available for clients in the eastern Fraser Valley. Abbotsford Regional Hospital has 21 station dialysis units for people who need supports of acute care; Abbotsford Community Dialysis Unit offers dialysis for more stable patients (these patients may or may not qualify home dialysis); and home hemodialyisis and peritoneal dialysis is provided for patients who are medically stable and have the home supports to accommodate this.


On the question of getting a dialysis unit at CGH, patients shouldn’t expect it in Chilliwack anytime soon. The FHA currently has “no plans to open a hemodialysis unit at Chilliwack General Hospital or a community hemodialysis clinic.”


“Fraser Health and the BC Renal Agency continue to analyze current and future dialysis needs in our region on a regular and ongoing basis and as population increases and patient needs change, it is something that could be considered in the future,” he said.


Patients with complex medical conditions are not appropriate candidates for community-based services. Specialized dialysis services offered within hospitals are required for those patients with complex, less stable medical conditions needing a set of specialized services including radiology, surgery and dialysis services.


A dialysis clinic at CGH would definitely help Chilliwack patients like the Wugalters.


Chilliwack residents, Elaina Wugalter and her husband Morris, have lived in Chilliwack for 30-years. Morris, who is a dialysis patient, knows only too well the issues surrounding local treatment and travel because three times a week he has to make the trip to Abbotsford for the day-long treatment.


“On Tuesday my husband had left for his treatment, the long dangerous trek to Abbotsford and he was on the road when all news bulletins were to stay off the roads,” said Wugalter.


“I was looking out the window at the masses of snow falling and suddenly it became clear to me—make a Facebook page and get the word out until the masses know the plight of a hemodialysis patient,” she said. “We have a brand new hospital, we have a huge new arts playhouse, and surely there is room for a dialysis unit.”


Wugalter wants to know why there’s no dialysis available in Chilliwack and along with friend Mhora Ogmundson have started a Facebook page called – We Want a Dialysis in Chilliwack. They are hoping to garner support and apply pressure on FHA to get units at CGH.


“I have two friends who have to get family members to Abbotsford for dialysis three times a week. This is life sustaining treatment and its time that this start happening in Chilliwack,” said Ogmundson in an e-mail. “Today, these people have to brave the roads and head to Abby. They don't get a choice. If they don't have the dialysis they could die, if they go they could die on the roads.”


The good news is that the system works. Provincially, renal clinical data meet or exceed national standards, and BC has the highest survival rates in the country.


Wugalter says it’s not about her or her husband, snow or car accidents, its about the availability of treatment options.


One member of the Facebook group contacted Chilliwack-Hope NDP candidate nominee Gwen O’Mahony asking if she would get involved and she was more than happy to oblige and in fact said that win or lose her nomination bid, she’ll remain committee.


“I will continue to work with her on this issue regardless of the nomination results on the 28th.”


“Elaina's husband faced this same issue last year when the weather was unsafe and she sent an email to John Les which resulted in a short response along the lines of ‘I'll look into it’ and no further communication,” said O’Mahony.


O’Mahony contacted NDP leader Adrian Dix about the issue and he wants to meet with members of the Facebook group within the next two weeks. Dix will be bringing Health Critic Mike Farnsworth with him to the meeting.


“We know that funding is limited, but we also know that Chilliwack is a generous community.   Fundraising part of the expenses may be an option and we'll discuss it further at the community meeting with Dix and Farnworth,” she said.


O’Mahony says she heard that FHA plans to extend treatment hours at ARH and because of that she feels there definitely is a need to expand the service.


O’Mahony says that the BC Liberal Party has spent $1.5M on attack ads but are leaving Chilliwack dialysis patients out in the cold.


“It's amazing how much money can be found to fund a smear campaign, meanwhile here in Chilliwack people such as Elaina's husband have to risk their lives to get dialysis in another community because we cannot afford a local unit,” she said.


Chilliwack isn’t alone with a lack of dialysis treatment. The problem seems to be systemic. O’Mahony says that both Quesnel and Powel River patients have to commute long distances to get treatment.


After some digging, O’Mahony found out that a large part of the issue is staffing.


“There simply aren’t enough dialysis nurses to staff the already existing clinics, it appears that this idea of a mobile unit might just be the most cost effective route, but the issue at the end of the day, will most likely come down to staffing.”


The Voice has not received a response from the BC Renal Agency.


Related links




For information regarding treatment options visit Vancouver Coastal Health website here.

For information about haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis visit Fraser Health website here.


© Copyright (c) 2011 The Valley Voice