The nurses in the dialysis unit at the Hay River Regional Health Centre include, from left, Kerri Domes, Jennifer Spencer and Lisa Pinksen.
Photo courtesy of Rodger Blake, Hay River Health and Social Services Authority

The dialysis unit in Hay River is being expanded, meaning a doubling of the number of patients who can be treated.

The expanded service should be ready to accept the additional patients before the end of the summer.

“We are extremely pleased,” said Erin Griffiths, CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, in written responses to questions from The Hub. “It is important to expand the program in Hay River to support the residents of the NWT.”

Griffiths said the expansion means up to an additional eight patients – for a total of 16 – will be able to be treated in the hemodialysis unit at the Hay River Regional Health Centre.

The expansion is not a matter of obtaining more equipment, but more about funding to hire additional nurses and cover the costs of a service involving more patients.

Funding has been increased by $615,000 annually from the Department of Health and Social Services, which approved the expansion.

That has allowed the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority to hire an additional two full-time nurses for the unit. The expanded dialysis service has four registered nurses and one co-ordinator registered nurse.

Griffiths explained that all positions are filled, but two of the nurses are currently on maternity leave.

That means the unit cannot actually begin its expanded service until two term positions are filled to replace the permanent nurses until they return from maternity leave.

At the meeting of town council on June 2, Coun. Brian Willows – also the public administrator of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority – talked briefly about the expansion of the dialysis unit and the need to find two nurses for term positions.

“That is all in the works and hopefully we’ll have things up and running before the end of the summer,” said Willows.

The dialysis unit has seven machines – four are operational and three are back-up.

The current dialysis chairs are the originals from when the unit opened in 2007 and they require replacement. Plus, a new dialysis machine has been ordered, but that will be for back-up.

The unused capacity of the dialysis unit has been somewhat controversial over the past few years and occasionally has been raised in the Legislative Assembly, especially since some patients from the region have had to go to Yellowknife for dialysis.

In May of 2018, Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson – before he became a cabinet minister – told the Legislative Assembly there is a “beautiful” dialysis unit at the Hay River Regional Health Centre, but only enough staff to service eight dialysis patients, and that was simply not enough.

“The facility itself can easily accommodate more patients,” Simpson said at that time.

There are currently two people from the region receiving dialysis in Yellowknife, and they will be able to receive dialysis in Hay River under the expansion.

“Patients from the South Slave will have the option to stay in the South Slave for dialysis services,” Griffiths stated.

Currently, the eight patients receiving dialysis in Hay River come from the community as well as Fort Resolution and Fort Providence.

Griffiths said the health authority has been working since 2017 with the Department of Health and Social Services on trying to expand the dialysis service.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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