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Coronavirus: Toronto hospital brings dialysis to seniors in long-term care, retirement homes

GTA hospital brings hemodialysis to patients in long-term care, retirement homes
WATCH ABOVE: Going to hospital multiple times a week for dialysis can be difficult on patients at the best of times, but amid a pandemic the risk factor is even higher. As Caryn Lieberman reports, Humber River Hospital has found a way to bring treatment to the patients.

At 97 years old, Micheline Benedict is receiving dialysis in the comfort of her bed at a retirement home in Toronto’s west end amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically, Benedict would have to leave her home, where she feels safe, to travel to Humber River Hospital three times a week for treatment.

“It is difficult because it is out of your habits. You have to get up at a certain time. You have to wait for the bus to come,” said Benedict.

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“More than half of their days they’re spending outside of their home,” said registered nurse Blessymol Varghese, who cares for Benedict.

Amid a global health emergency, Benedict, a senior who has kidney failure, would be at a high risk of contracting COVID-19.

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“During the pandemic, there has been a lot of anxiety about transmission of the virus and getting sick, especially among the elderly, and we have a lot of elderly dialysis patients,” said Humber River Hospital Nephrologist, Dr. Andreas Pierratos.

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For the first time, the Toronto hospital is providing hemodialysis for patients residing in long-term care and retirement homes. It is believed to be a first for any Canadian hospital.

“In the past it was not even clear why we couldn’t, and here it is happening for the first time in a way that is very convenient for the patients and hopefully will save money and prevent the patients from getting sicker,” said Pierratos.

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Using a portable dialysis machine and remote monitoring, doctors said patients receive superior medical and quality of life benefits compared to the standard hospital-based dialysis therapy.

Most importantly, this has proven to be a key strategy in reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 between facilities and exposing vulnerable patients.

So far, 13 patients living in long-term care are being dialyzed at home. The goal of Humber’s nephrology program is to offer it to every patient with chronic kidney disease.

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“Promoting safety in terms of health, transmission of the virus, and at the same time providing safety from the patient getting moved to the hospital three times a week for dialysis,” explained Pierratos.

READ MORE: Canada’s nursing homes worry coronavirus outbreak will mean residents ‘dying alone’

In terms of medical benefits, Pierratos said the higher frequency of the dialysis treatment offers better fluid and toxin removal from the patient’s bloodstream compared to regular dialysis, and consequently allows for more dietary freedom for patients.

Humber has partnered up with nine long-term care homes across the GTA with the goal of enhancing access for all hemodialysis patients.

For Benedict, who gets to read her favourite book, or knit a cardigan, home dialysis has been the preferred choice.