Mobile Dialysis Unit Saves Rural Patients Time, Money

Visit Project: Renal Dialysis Bus

Edmonton Journal
Thu Jan 10 2008, Page: B4 Section: Cityplus
Byline: Jodie Sinnema, Dateline: EDMONTON, Source: The Edmonton Journal

Brian Elkow is looking forward to the moment when a gigantic medical bus roles into Whitecourt and begins cleaning his blood.

Until now, the 66-year-old had to drive four hours to Edmonton for life-saving kidney treatment.

But a $2.1-million bus, converted into a mobile dialysis unit, will head to Whitecourt and Hinton every week starting Jan. 18 to give patients treatment in their communities.

“I’m just going to spend more time at home,” said Elkow, whose diabetes has taken his left leg below the knee, the sight in one eye and his kidney function.

Without a dialysis unit in the Whitecourt hospital, Elkow had to spend $325 for gas and a driver to get him to Edmonton three times each week. Each of those days, he was away from home from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The high-tech bus, staffed by two nurses and specially trained drivers, will now drive to Elkow’s community 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton and dock at the hospital to connect with the water, sewage and electricity system. It can treat six patients on board at one time, hooking them up to oxygen if needed, connecting them via satellite with doctors in Edmonton if there’s an unforeseen emergency, and entertaining them with TVs while their blood is cleaned. Only four patients in Whitecourt and another two in Hinton, about 290 kilometres west of Edmonton, need to use the unit right now. But Deb Gordon, vice-president and chief operating officer of the University and Stollery Children’s hospitals, said she expects those numbers to grow. Currently, more than 300 patients from outside the capital city need dialysis of some sort and head to Edmonton or 15 other dialysis units between Red Deer and High Level.

“We can’t possibly put a fixed dialysis machine in each and every town,” Gordon said, noting that it costs about $50,000 to treat a person on dialysis each year. “The numbers change all the time. Today you’re well, and tomorrow you need dialysis. … The closer that we can bring the services to patients, the better we are.”

Gordon said having a mobile unit is more cost-effective than a fixed one in a rural hospital since the unit can rove around to communities in need. While this bus will focus on the sprawling Aspen Health region, which spans from Jasper to Cold Lake, if the program works well it could be expanded, Gordon said.

“It’s on wheels. Other than that, it’s just like every other dialysis unit we have.”

The unit is the only one in operation outside Quebec.

Edition: Final 
Story Type: News / Length: 422 words / Idnumber: 200801100070