Lack of dialysis services forces Fort Smith man to live in Yellowknife

Fort Smith man waits two to five years for treatment closer to home

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Almost one year into a potential five year wait for dialysis treatment near his family, Ron Mabbitt worries he may never come home to Fort Smith.

At one time, the town had a dialysis machine but now the closest one is in Hay River. However, the facility in Hay River is limited: It’s only in operation three days week and services eight patients. Mabbit could wait years before a spot opens.

In May 2018, Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson told the legislative assembly that the facility could “easily accommodate more patients,” but it is hampered by a lack of qualified staff.

Some patients, many of whom are seniors, are forced to travel to out-of-town hospitals, he said.

Ron Mabbitt, in his Stanton Hospital room on June 5, hopes to return home to Fort Smith and stay with his family while he receives dialysis.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Mabbitt – who is 80-years-old and lost his legs to diabetes in 2016 – is one of those seniors.

He first came to Yellowknife in early August 2018, a few months after Simpson called for expanded dialysis services in Hay River.

“But they didn’t tell me, until I got (to Yellowknife): the wait would be two to five years. After the fact,” he said.

Finding a place stay in Yellowknife while he received treatment has been a challenge. He has moved around five times and even stayed in the children’s ward, which he liked: the nurses joked with him and he enjoyed the company.

“They’re all good,” he said. “But now they got friggin angels. Really, they all are.”

Meanwhile, in a Sept. 5, 2018 letter to Fort Smith Town Council, John Evans, the owner of the town’s Home Hardware and a friend of Mabbitt’s, expressed concern over the financial and logistical burden of travelling to Hay River or Yellowknife to receive dialysis treatment.

At one time, the town’s health centre offered dialysis services but no longer, wrote Evans, who asked council to find a way for Fort Smith’s patients to receive treatment closer to home.

Director of Territorial Health Services Carol Amirault said the department hasn’t determined if there is a need for dialysis to be offered in the community. She said a Territorial Renal Planning Review is currently taking place to assess the situation.

“It’s not just about the need,” she said. “Renal services, dialysis services is a complex therapy. And we have to ensure we’re meeting (Canadian) standards.”

“Many things must be considered,” she said.

“You have to have a certain number of clients that require the therapy in an area, so you have staff to report it,” she said, adding that the machines also complex and require support. She said Hay River has increased the training of its staff to support its current program, and support expansion if were to occur.

“As a healthcare system, our aim is to provide care to our clients as close to home as possible, if not their home community. We have the upmost empathy for patients who have to relocate and travel to receive those services,” she said, explaining a medical travel program supports these clients.

In a letter to Simpson and the Health Minister Glen Abernethy, Mabbitt’s sister Linda Mabbitt asked that her brother be allowed to receive treatment in Hay River.

“If you’re emotionally unstable then how could you be happy receiving treatment that’s prolonging a life you’re not enjoying,” she said.

She said her brother is family-oriented and the distress he experiences due to his distance from home is “very worrisome.”

“We miss him dearly,” she said, before adding that Ron’s absence weighs heavily on him and his family.

Ron Mabbitt, a mechanic for 35 years, has four children with his wife of 54 years. He visits them on Christmas and Easter, rescheduling dialysis appointments so he can spend more time with them.

“Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and I got to be back here on Wednesday,” he said of the visits, “go(ing) straight into dialysis.”

He continues to pay for a special care room in Fort Smith, hoping for a return.

“They have to pry me out of Smith,” he said. “I spent all my life there.”

It feels “terrible,” being away he said.

“If I don’t smarten up, I’ll probably get old before my time worrying about it,” said Mabbitt, who added that his stay in Yellowknife has been “goddamn lonesome.”

“I don’t plan to die right away but I’d sure like to spend the last days of my life at home,” he said.

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