Dartmouth resident Calvin Kilgar goes to dialysis three days a week, four hours at a time.
It’s an exhausting ordeal for the 73-year-old, but with kidneys weakened by a bowel blockage gone wrong, the treatment is what keeps him alive.
Dialysis uses tubes, machinery or catheters to keep waste, salt, water and other chemicals from building up in the body, and Kilgar has been getting it done in Dartmouth for about 15 years.
But in September, he’ll have to start receiving treatment in Halifax while the hemodialysis unit at the Dartmouth General Hospital (DGH) undergoes much-needed renovations. The construction will last about 12 months – an unwelcome shakeup to the routine of a sick man.
“Most of us have canes or a walker or whatever, but it’s hard to get around,” he told Global News, just two hours after a treatment.
“So it’s just added stress, and as far as the time goes, it’s gonna take an extra half hour both ways, and people have things to do besides go to dialysis.”
That’s not to mention the bridge tolls, parking woes, traffic trouble, and extra burden to those who require a caregiver or driver to attend treatment, he added.
Kilgar isn’t not alone in his concerns – 35 people have signed a petition started by dialysis patients against the move to Halifax.
“The reason I’m doing the interview is on behalf of the over 60 people that are dialysis patients, that I’m sure are laying at home at night, worrying about how they’re going to get back and forth to Halifax for their treatments,” he said.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) confirmed that in September, it will start relocating dialysis patient appointments from the DGH to the Dickson hemodialysis unit at the Victoria General in Halifax. If needed, it will also open up the Halifax Infirmary on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings to accommodate the extra patients from Dartmouth.
The transfer is expected to impact between 55 and 60 patients for a full year.
“This will alleviate patients and staff from experiencing noise and other constructional inconveniences during this time,” reads a memo distributed within NSHA leadership on July 11, explaining the proposed transfer.
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“We understand the concerns and frustrations of patients who may have to travel for dialysis as well as staff. We thank you for your patience as we continue working to enhance dialysis services in our communities across the province so patients can receive quality care, closer to home sooner.”
The NSHA’s senior director for the renal program was not available for comment on Friday, and preferred to communicate with patients before doing an interview.
But according to the memo, relocating the patients to Halifax was the best option for them – doing so, it states, actually cuts the renovation period in half, allowing the patients to return to Dartmouth sooner, and saves about $1 million in project costs.
In an emailed statement, NSHA spokesperson Carla Adams said the decision to transfer patient appointments was made by a provincial steering committee, and communicated to each patient via a written information sheet.
Individual meetings with patients and their families to explain the changes are also underway.
But that’s not good enough for NDP MLA Claudia Chender, who represents Dartmouth South and received the petition signed by Kilgar and others. She said she’s particularly concerned about the impacts it will have on patients of limited means.
“That may make sense on paper, it doesn’t make sense in reality and it’s not meeting the health care needs of people in Dartmouth,” Chender said on Friday.
“What I’d like to see is a conversation with the NSHA, with the leads here at the Dartmouth General Hospital and with other health care professionals in Dartmouth, to find a solution so that those patients can continue to receive dialysis in Dartmouth.”
According to Adams, there is no suitable space in Dartmouth that would accommodate the equipment, staff and infrastructure required for safe dialysis.
Kilgar said he’d rather spend 24 months in a Dartmouth hospital under construction than a year commuting to Halifax, three days a week.
“Ever since this is started, nobody’s ever come and consulted the patients,” he said.
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The Dartmouth General Hospital upgrades are part of the $2-billion QEII New Generation redevelopment, which aims to improve health care services in Metro Halifax long term. The expansion and renovations are expected to add nearly 50 beds to the hospital, double its number of operating rooms and allow doctors to perform an extra 3,500 surgeries per year.
Six new dialysis stations will be added to the hemodialysis unit, creating 36 extra spaces for patients when used three times per day.
Health Minister Randy Delorey said the work is well underway and the entire project is expected to be completed, on time, in fall of 2021.
“Pieces of the work have been completed already,” he told Global News on Thursday. “…So the short-term impacts and inconveniences, I think certainly we ask for their patience as we complete the renovations. Every effort is made to minimize and ensure continuity of the health care services on site.”