Dialysis clinic not coming to Chilliwack: FHA

For the past four years, Sharon Bainbridge has been driving her husband Stephen three times a week to Abbotsford for his dialysis treatment. - ALINA KONEVSKI/The Progress
For the past four years, Sharon Bainbridge has been driving her husband Stephen three times a week to Abbotsford for his dialysis treatment.
— image credit: ALINA KONEVSKI/The Progress

Chilliwack residents suffering from kidney disease still do not have hometown access to renal dialysis treatment, despite extensive campaigning and political interest last year. But the Fraser Health Authority confirms that to set up such a unit would be very expensive, and there are simply not enough dialysis patients in Chilliwack to justify the cost.

March is Kidney Health Month, and March 14 is World Kidney Day. In British Columbia, over 240,000 people have some form of kidney disease, according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Nationally, that's one in 10. Fraser Health alone has 2,531 kidney care patients within its system.

In Chilliwack, 12 residents commute to the Abbotsford community-based dialysis unit for their treatment three times a week, confirms FHA. Another 14 Chilliwack kidney patients reside full-time at Abbotsford Regional Hospital. And an unspecified number are self-treating at home.

Fraser Health is not considering opening a community-based dialysis clinic in Chilliwack. The health authority says the patient population is too low, and Chilliwack General Hospital lacks the required supportive services, such as interventional radiology and vascular surgeons.

Setting up a renal dialysis clinic in Chilliwack would cost several million dollars, says FHA spokesperson Tasleem Juma.

FHA follows a regional approach to dialysis treatment. Valley residents are expected to commute to one of three hospital facilities (in Abbotsford, Surrey, and New Westminster), or to one of five community-based centres (in Abbotsford, New West, Coquitlam, and two in Surrey).

Juma points to the example of Burnaby, which does not have a comunity-based clinic due to a lack of required services at Burnaby Hospital. But Burnaby patients have a much shorter drive to their nearest clinic in New West.

Although some regions use mobile dialysis units, such as Ontario, Fraser Health has none and does not plan to pursue this strategy.

Arguably the biggest complaint against dialysis services in the region is that FHA does not assist with transport for outpatients, except in the rarest of circumstances. People who are receiving treatment on an outpatient basis, explains Juma, are considered to be in stable condition, and it is customary for such patients to commute for their procedures.

The reality, however, is that many dialysis patients are elderly.

While 78-year-old Cultus Lake resident Stephen Bainbridge could drive himself to the treatment, he would be too tired to drive back. For the past four years since his kidneys failed, Stephen's wife Sharon gets up at 5 a.m. with him every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, to get to the 7 a.m. treatment at Abbotsford General. While Stephen settles in for the 4.5-hour procedure, Sharon kills time by wandering the shops of Abbotsford. It isn't worth the time and gas to drive back home in the meantime.

"Your whole life revolves around this, and you have to adjust," she says. "It's a life-altering thing.

In the last two months, Sharon's knee has been acting up, so the couple hired Chilliwack Community Services to take Stephen to his treatments. Because they managed to find someone with whom to share the ride, cost is $30 per day, $390 per month. Regular price for a single passenger is $780 per month.

The Bainbridge's live in an adult-only mobile home park south of town, on their pension and savings. FHA says their income is too high to receive assistance with transport for the treatment.

Home hemodialysis is not an option for them.

"We're not professionals. I wouldn't feel comfortable with this," says Sharon. "It takes two people to do this. What if one of us got sick?"

Last year, Elaina Wugalter rallied community support for opening a clinic in Chilliwack, after a January snowstorm nearly dislocated the city from Abbotsford, and Wugalter and husband Morris — along with patients from Hope, Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs — had to risk dangerous roads to get to their dialysis treatments.

Wugalter considers the lack of a clinic in Chilliwack unjust, and a safety concern.

"There's elderly people driving up and down the highway going to Abbotsford for dialysis," she says.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz and Chilliwack-Hope MLA Gwen O'Mahony have voiced support for a dialysis unit in Chilliwack.

B. C. regional director for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, Lois Wilson, spends March reminding people to reduce their risk of kidney disease by doing "the same little things" of eating right, exercising, and not smoking. Some people are also at higher genetic risk, as are people with high blood pressure and diabetes.

"If you belong to one of those groups, then you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms," says Wilson. These include hypertension, puffy eyes and hands and feet, and abnormal or painful passing of urine.


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