By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

A cabinet shuffle in the provincial government has sparked the hopes of Columbia River-Revelstoke NDP MLA Norm Macdonald, whos been working to prevent the Invermere Dialysis Unit from closure for months.

Terry Lake, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson and former Minister of Environment, was recently sworn in as the Minister of Health. The role of the Health Minister is to identify health needs by population, plan appropriate services, and ensure programs are properly funded and managed, while maintaining performance standards.

Terry Lake is from a rural area his community has dealt with at times the inadequacy of the health system, so he understands rural challenges perhaps better than urban ministers, said Mr. Macdonald. What has gone on in Invermere with the removal of dialysis services and the intention to remove the equipment is simply wrong-handed, and a minister with a fresh look at this should be able to reach the same conclusion that we in the valley have reached.

Because Mr. Lakes position as Minster of Health only began on Friday, June 7th, Mr. Macdonald has not yet had an opportunity to share the Invermere Hospitals dialysis issue with him. The Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA is looking forward to speaking with Mr. Lake about dialysis after legislature resumes on Wednesday, June 26th.

However, Paula James, regional director of renal services at Interior Health Authority, says that because the only specialized nurse is on extended leave and only two patients currently receive the treatment, the chances of the Invermere Hospital retaining its dialysis unit are dismal.

Sustaining a unit with one nurse is difficult, said Ms. James, claiming that a lone nurses entitled vacation time will create an inconsistent quality of health.

She said Invermere is the only community in B.C. to operate a dialysis unit with just one renal nurse, adding that no active effort is underway to recruit new renal nurses due to the lack of patients.

But regardless of its current activity, Mr. Macdonald says Invermeres dialysis is an important service to the valley, and isnt letting it go without a fight.

Its not only the people that it serves now, its the people that it will serve in the future, he said. And there are also those that may visit the valley and would utilize the service if it were available.

Ms. James, however, says that recently diagnosed patients who require dialysis treatment required centralized attention as unstable patients are at critical risk.

Community dialysis units are for well-established, stable patients, not new ones who arent stable their blood-sugar or blood pressure can go up and down critically, and for that they need to dialyze where there is a full ICU and a urologist, she said. And anybody under the age of 18 would also have to seek treatment in either Calgary or Vancouver.

Acknowledging the challenges involved, Mr. Macdonald said there is something fundamentally wrong when people are forced to leave the community if they fall sick.

The Invermere Dialysis Unit will likely be moved from Invermere in the next few weeks, but no firm date has been selected, Ms. James said.

If you dont have consistent staffing, then you jeopardize the quality, she said. With any dialysis unit, its imperative that we have consistent quality care, and we dont have that in Invermere.

In addition to the other explanations for the closure by Interior Health on behalf of the Ministry of Health, the decision does not resonate with Mr. Macdonald, who said, The NDP has responded to all those reasons as to why they dont make sense, and claims his position to be in line with every nearby local government as well as the East Kootenay Regional Health Board.