Renal dialysis arrives in HP

The ribbon was cut Feb. 17 to open the new renal dialysis unit in the High Prairie Health Complex. Left-right, are site manager Janet Farney, Big Lakes County Reeve Robert Nygaard, Alberta Health Services north rural east senior operating officer Cindy Harmata, Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, High Prairie & Area Chamber of Commerce president Barry Sharkawi and renal dialysis unit manager Kristin Dirom.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Dialysis has arrived in High Prairie after more than 15 years of lobbying and planning.
The renal dialysis unit in the High Prairie Health Complex officially opened Feb. 16 for the first patients.
Local community leaders toured the facility Feb. 17 to celebrate the historic milestone.
Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk says it’s welcomed by patients in the region who don’t have to travel far to get their treatment.
It will also help with the demand of patients in dialysis units in Peace River, Slave Lake and Grande Prairie.
“The whole north needed this to releive the stress from other dialysis units,” Panasiuk says.
“This is a game-changer for those who need dialysis as they no longer need to travel for more than an hour to get this life-saving treatment.
“Having a dialysis clinic in High Prairie also reduces the strain on the family and friends who had to drive the person a couple of times a week for treatments.”
The unit, located on the second storey of the complex, features five stations and one isolation room.
Alberta Health Services expects the unit will be fully operational by Feb. 28 and will be open three days a week with capacity to treat 12 patients a day to meet the demand for the service in High Prairie.
Big Lakes County Reeve Robert Nygaard is delighted to see the unit open.
“I’m proud of the work that those who sat on council in years past have put in to make the opening of the dialysis unit a reality,” Nygaard says.
“Investing in northern communities like High Prairie impacts not only the immediate residents but the thousands of people who live in independent communities, hamlets, towns, First Nations and Metis Settlements in the area.”
Whitefish Lake First Nation Chief Albert Thunder appreciates that dialysis is closer to home for residents of the community about 110 km northeast of High Prairie.
“With this facility, our folks won’t have to travel a couple of hours one way just to get the treatment they need,” Thunder says.
“Thank you to everyone for their hard work and making this endeavour a reality for many folks who could not afford to travel those three-to-four-hour trips each day.”
Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn gave special thanks to those who persevered to convince the government to open a dialysis unit in High Prairie.
“I know a lot of people worked hard to make this happen,” says Rehn, who cut the ribbon during a brief ceremony.
He mentioned Diana Oliver, George Keay, Kirsten Sware and Barry Sharkawi as people who persisted to lobby the government and collected data to persuade the government to build the dialysis unit.
Rehn also noted a big thanks to First Nations and Metis Settlements.
At the provincial cabinet level, he thanked former health minister Tyler Shandro and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson for their support.
“The new renal dialysis unit is something the community believed in and worked for in partnership with Alberta’s government,” Rehn says.
“It’s a testament to their dedication.”
Sharkawi says the dialysis unit will make it easier for local people who have had to travel far distances for the service.
“This will make a huge difference for people in this region,” Sharkawi says.
Over the years, many people have been frustrated that dialysis was not closer to home, he adds.
Now that the health complex has a dialysis unit, he urges Panasiuk and Nygaard to form a committee to lobby the provincial government to open a cancer treatment clinic in the hospital and obstetrics to deliver babies.
AHS north rural east senior operating officer Cindy Harmata says the dialysis unit is a major achievement for the community.
“This is something to celebrate, it’s been a long journey,” Harmata says.
“Dialysis offers a quality of life.”
She notes that people in the community started to lobby government about 20 years ago.
Hospital site manager Janet Farney said the opening of the unit is great news.
“We’re excited to have the service on site and open to better support patients, their families and the community,” Farney says.
“Everyone is positive about it.”
Health Minister Jason Copping says the dialysis unit enhances heath care in the region.
“This new dialysis unit will improve the range of healthcare services for High Prairie and area residents,” he says.
He adds “it underscores our mission to make sure Albertans have access to quality health care no matter where they live.”
“I want to thank the staff who will provide treatment closer to home and [Rehn] for his advocacy to help make this project a reality.”
AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu agrees the unit is valuable to local patients.
“It’s well-known that dialysis is a treatment that saves lives,” Yiu says.
“What might not be as well-known is the way nearby access to dialysis improves quality of life by reducing the need to travel and giving people back valuable time to do the things that matter to them.”
Funding of $5.2 million was committed by the government to build the clinic in shelled-in space.
The decision came after significant consultation with the community.

The renal dialysis unit on the upper floor of the High Prairie Health Complex includes five stations and one isolation room.
Renal dialysis unit manager Kristin Dirom shows one of the dialysis stations in the High Prairie Health Complex.
The first patients in the new renal dialysis unit in the High Prairie Health Complex received their treatment when it opened Feb. 16. Photo courtesy of Kristin Dirom.

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