Whitehorse Daily Star

Liberals called ‘cold, un-empathetic’ on dialysis

Faced with the prospect of eventually leaving the Yukon to receive hemodialysis treatment, Marianne Blythe is advocating to bring the treatment to the territory.

By Gabrielle Plonka on February 14, 2020

Faced with the prospect of eventually leaving the Yukon to receive hemodialysis treatment, Marianne Blythe is advocating to bring the treatment to the territory.

“I think the lack of dialysis in the Yukon is very near-sighted; I think it’s criminal,” Blythe told the Star this week.

Blythe, 70, has polycystic kidney disease, a genetic and incurable condition causing cysts to grow inside the kidneys.

She is in the beginning stages of seeking specialized medical treatment, and presumes that hemodialysis may be an aspect of her recovery journey on the way to a kidney transplant.

Hemodialysis is a blood-cleansing treatment that mimics the function of the kidneys in the case of kidney failure. It has not been made available in the Yukon.

Over Christmas, Blythe became familiar with the widely reported story of Terry Coventry.

He returned home to Whitehorse to die rather than permanently relocate to Vancouver for hemodialysis. In late 2019, Coventry told media he hoped his imminent death would inspire the Yukon government to take action.

Coventry died in early January, inspiring Blythe to pick up the torch.

“When I heard of Terry having to go down to Vancouver, just to get this dialysis, that he was essentially condemned … I became incensed, I was angry,” Blythe said.

Blythe said her family in Alberta has been urging her to move down south so that she will be located closer to treatment options.

The prospect of leaving the territory and facing the same situation as Terry has since been a source of anxiety and fear for Blythe.

“I don’t want to leave the Yukon,” she said.

“I was a teacher here for 25 years, and I think I’m a valuable part of the community. I have a little house that I love, and it’s full of old bits of junk that I love.”

For Blythe, requiring hemodialysis is a little farther down the road. She is advocating, not just for herself, but for anyone in the Yukon who might face a similar situation.

She noted that the Yukon has an aging population, likely boosting the need for dialysis treatment over the next several years.

“Kidney disease is, unfortunately, well and truly alive …. I think the party that’s in power (the Yukon Liberal Party) is looking at this through very narrow optics,” Blythe said.

Over the last month, Blythe has been in touch with NDP Leader Kate White, a vocal advocate for hemodialysis in the past several years, as well as Coventry’s sister, Kelly.

Kelly Coventry told the Star she has been talking with Blythe about keeping the fight for dialysis alive in her brother’s memory. Continuing to advocate for the treatment was a promise Kelly made to him before his death.

Last month, Kelly started an advocacy group on Facebook. She invites Yukoners who are affected by the lack of dialysis to get in touch with her.

“I know there’s been quite a response, and concern seems to be underlying for everybody with an aging population and with the many people in the Yukon having diabetes,” Kelly said.

“Dialysis is going to be something that is very much needed in the not-too-distant future.”

Kelly and Blythe say the government needn’t necessarily provide an entire dialysis unit, which they understand would be costly and take up space at the hospital, where rooms are already at a premium. One room would be a start, Kelly said.

“They’re making it out to be a huge big thing, and I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said.

Kelly is working on compiling a cost comparison of Terry’s treatment in Vancouver versus in Whitehorse through an access to information request, and is hoping she can rally more Yukoners in support.

“Marianne said she’ll be right beside me, she wants to work on getting this happening,” Kelly said.

In December, Pat Living, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Services, told the Star the Yukon isn’t able to provide hemodialysis because there aren’t enough people who require it.

This information is based on advice given by the B.C. Provincial Renal Agency, the organization that currently provides support to Yukoners who require hemodialysis and transplants.

The territorial government was advised at least 65 individuals are required to support in-hospital treatment. Fewer than 10 patients required dialysis in the Yukon over the past five years, Living said.

“Some patients in Yukon are suitable candidates for in-home dialysis here in Yukon but is offered through B.C.; and some patients are candidates for peritoneal hemodialysis which can also be done at home,” Living said in an email.

“We have fewer than five patients in need of in-hospital dialysis so we continue to treat these patients outside the territory.”

The Star requested the number of Yukoners diagnosed with kidney disease in the territory. The department did not provide that information for this story.

In October 2018, White asked Health Minister Pauline Frost how many Yukoners have diabetes. Frost said she didn’t know – but that her department was working with the Canadian Institute for Health Information to collect that number.

The Yukon and Nunavut are the only two Canadian jurisdictions that don’t offer in-hospital hemodialysis.

The N.W.T. offers hemodialysis at health centres in Yellowknife and Hay River, despite the territory’s similarly low population.

Damien Healy, the communications manager at N.W.T. Health and Social Services, told the Star hemodialysis is offered as part of the territory’s 2017-2020 strategic plan.

Fighting chronic diseases is one of the six priorities highlighted by the N.W.T. government in that plan. More than 450 N.W.T. residents have been identified as having kidney disease, Healy said. This is due to rising obesity rates and diabetes, as well as high rates of smoking.

The dialysis units in Hay River and Yellowknife can accommodate eight and 30 patients, respectively.

Healy noted that Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital Foundation and the Wellness Foundation of Hay River are instrumental in fundraising for the operation of the units.

The N.W.T. units are supported by Alberta Kidney Care North, in a similar fashion as how the Yukon leans on the B.C. Renal Agency.

Blythe told the Star she is impatient to see Yukon-specific data outlining how many people suffer from kidney disease.

She questions why the Yukon government seems to be stonewalling something that the N.W.T. is able to pull off – with the same population restrictions.

“I felt the Liberal response, that there just aren’t enough people, was very cold and totally un-empathetic, and I was amazed there was no statistics and no data,” Blythe said.

“You’re saying there isn’t enough, but how many is enough? Is one life not enough? Was Terry’s life not worth it?”

Blythe said she is planning to “dig in her heels” on the issue. She intends to compose her story for publication, in more detail, and spend some time appealing to the government.

“I’m prepared to become a spokesperson,” Blythe said.

“I don’t have the background, but I do have the faulty kidneys … hemodialysis, for me, is down the road, but who better to make a statement than someone who might have to use it?”

By GABRIELLE PLONKA Star Reporter

Comments (22)

Up 8 Down 1

Mick on Feb 18, 2020 at 3:40 pm

To the ill-informed that think 'this is all Larry's fault'

Health services, since devolution a couple decades ago have been a responsibility of the territorial government, NOTHING to do with the Feds.
The Feds send just north of $1 Billion dollars here and it's YG's job to divvy that up to HSS, Education, CS, Justice etc etc.

It's the Premier(s), ultimately who decide where the money flows, note that I said Premiers because none (YP, Lib or NDP) have allocated any money to hemodialysis. Kidney disease isn't a new phenomenon, Yukoners have been suffering and dying as a result of it since the dawn of time.

Ask your MLA what is more important Yukoners health or seniors managers travelling on junkets to mining conventions and potential tourism sources.

Up 2 Down 4

Salt on Feb 18, 2020 at 2:03 pm

Juniper,
I fully support looking at Gov spending and cutting waste to fund projects such as this but good Lord, what a mixed bag of overly emotional rhetoric. There are limited resources to deal with any particular problem. Peoples time and money aren’t infinite, so of course there is a cost /benefit analysis to EVERYTHING! Don’t like it, take it up with God. And yes there may come a day when you have to make a hard choice. Why? Because life. Good grief.

Up 13 Down 4

Juniper Jackson on Feb 17, 2020 at 11:21 pm

This discussion is about someone’s life that wanted to live.. I am appalled at the number of people that put a price on someone’s life. The city spends half a million dollars on art.. they could have said instead of pi**ing away all these tax dollars, we’ll do that next year and contribute now.. the hospital will have no problem finding space for the equipment.. the Christmas fundraisers went to buy teaching equipment in well over the million dollar mark.. all I’m saying is.. the money is there if the will to save a life is there... how much does it cost for silver to traipse around the country? What are you going to say when it's your daughter? Or your Mom? I am a mom, a grand mom, a great grand mom, a wife.. a friend.. they are ALL here.. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to leave them.. why would I have to make Sophie’s Choice?

Up 9 Down 2

Miles Epanhauser on Feb 17, 2020 at 6:13 pm

My opinion is set some space aside at Whitehorse General, purchase the equipment, train and dedicate staff and get it done.
While they are planning at WG dedicate more staffing resources to CT and MRI scans. It's ridiculous that we have the equipment but a long wait period.

Up 24 Down 0

Dianne Lenz on Feb 17, 2020 at 12:44 pm

I for one would love to see a spot at the hospital for a dialysis machine, I for one is going through the process of getting one in my home in the next few months, but first I have to go to Vancouver B.C. for training on how to use the machine which I'm to use 5 times a week due to my kidneys not working properly. I would also like to see a support group for the people who use the machine up here also.

Up 18 Down 24

BnR on Feb 17, 2020 at 10:47 am

Imagine how much money we would have had for stuff like this if the Yukon Party hadn't blown the cash on hospitals in Watson and Dawson. Hospitals that weren't needed and can't be run properly due to funding issues.
But yeah, let's blame the libs for being responsible with our cash.

Up 22 Down 9

Davis on Feb 17, 2020 at 10:14 am

Here we go again...if we have enough people requiring this treatment to support getting the equipment and staff and training in Whitehorse then I'm all for it, but that doesn't appear to be the case.
People have such unrealistic expectations. If you chose to live in a sparsely populated part of the country don't expect to have all the same amenities available if you had been living down south. Of course nobody WANTS to leave their home, but what do you expect?

Up 31 Down 3

Billy Petersen on Feb 16, 2020 at 9:31 pm

I support the Liberals in most causes but not this one. The bell that rings for me is when we footed a $429,000.00 (four hundred and twenty nine thousand) dollar bill for 24 hrs of William and Kate's royalty. It was nice to host them but this amount would have bought two dialysis machines. This doesn't fit.

Up 20 Down 4

Lindsay H on Feb 16, 2020 at 1:19 pm

Let’s say for arguments sake there are 10 people who are not peritoneal dialysis and require renal dialysis. 1) we have to find room at the hospital to build a treatment area. 2) we need to invest $ to either recruit staff or send staff for training. 3) we will need a physician who specializes in renal disease 4) purchase equipment, and lastly 5) retain staff. This is a huge investment for 10 people out of 40,000 ish people. I agree that relocating isn’t ideal but if it meant saving my life or prolonging it, then I would make that choice.

What about the thousands upon thousands of people who are suffering from Mental Health issues in the Territory who chose to take their own lives each year because we don't have the people supports in Yukon for them? We don’t have a true mental health unit at the hospital that can provide treatment to people suffering.

I am not saying those 10 lives don’t matter but if we are going to shell out millions for something done in house, I would rather see it benefit a greater number of people who are suffering and don’t have other options.

Up 45 Down 2

Mary Cheney on Feb 16, 2020 at 11:54 am

The statement that there aren’t enough people needing that resource can’t be proven when the government cannot produce ANY numbers. They should quit guessing and get their facts straight.

Up 34 Down 11

drum on Feb 16, 2020 at 10:41 am

Dave:
If a high ranking Liberal needed dialysis a way would be found to install their own machine in their house,

Up 13 Down 35

Salt on Feb 15, 2020 at 10:44 pm

Every other story is about someone trying to shake the public money tree. Seems a significant amount of people feel it’s their “right” to have the government appropriate others money to support their particular need. The demand for ‘free’ money is infinite.

Up 37 Down 14

Josey Wales on Feb 15, 2020 at 9:50 pm

Hmmm...almost like the ruling class spent all our money on...

Peppering the country with culture clubs for the cultural elite...
Importing epic levels of the 3rd world...
Accepting epic bogus refugee claims...
Pandering to the French...
The soy boy in chiefs global commitment to its masters...the UN.
Turning terrorists into millionaires...
Funding our state broadcaster liberal sycophants bigtimus,
wining and dining in the air like gluttonous tyrants...
...sigh, I will stop now as this is too easy.

Those things matter to team red, their boss ...
We, the actual Canadians...not so much.

Up 29 Down 6

drum on Feb 15, 2020 at 6:44 pm

The Federal Government gives millions to third world countries and everyone that they like. Time to make sure that our own people in the Yukon are taken care of. I have been having so many friends (they are now dead) needing this treatment but not wanting to leave their families, friends and support system to go to a facility in the south. Very few of these people can afford to buy their own machine to work in their own home.

Up 20 Down 9

Joel on Feb 15, 2020 at 9:33 am

I had thought we elected Larry to the federal government. The federal government gives money to the provinces and territories so they can decide what is important.

Is there anything else that NWT has that Yukon doesn't have, or vice versa? 2 different places, 2 different situations and it shouldn't be the main reason for Yukon to have a dedicated hospital hemodialysis unit in addition to our current dialysis and hemodialysis systems.

Up 41 Down 10

Dave on Feb 15, 2020 at 7:38 am

It's funny how Trudeau and the federal Liberals throw money around like confetti to all their special little pet projects, remember 'Canada is Back'? Africa, the UN, Global Empowering Women & Girls Fund, all getting tens of millions of your money, then there was Trudeaus text pledging millions to climate projects at the global summit last year. Maybe we need to get Bono to come to the Yukon so Yukoners (Canadians) needing dialysis up here don't have to choose between leaving or death. Apparently a high profile Yukon Liberal will need dialysis before anything will change, if that were to occur local dialysis availability would become priority #1 overnight. As JC posted the election is over so dialysis patients don't matter until 2023 and the next round of Larry's vote buying happens.

Up 23 Down 22

SheepChaser on Feb 15, 2020 at 12:06 am

Hey, if the numbers work and it's cheaper to do it here, let's do it. If not, then those asking for this treatment should at least be mindful that if they succeed, they may just pull healthcare dollars away from some other critical area.

Glad to see the NWT model involved significant private funding. Hopefully there will be efforts to do the same here before the old fallback of 'blame the gov'.
Socialized healthcare is based on medical need, population and limited budgets. Not everyone will be able to receive the treatment they *need* in the way they *want*.

Many people around the world are forced to relocate their lives and families to receive specialized treatments like this. Our healthcare system is doing a pretty darn good job flying people to the care they need in private aircraft free of charge. Seems very empathetic to me.

Up 23 Down 10

Wilf Carter on Feb 14, 2020 at 10:11 pm

I asked Larry for help when I had to go for health care that I had to pay for myself and all he said YTG looks after that which they would not.

Up 29 Down 15

Juniper Jackson on Feb 14, 2020 at 8:24 pm

I wanted to hear “go to Vancouver until we get the dialysis machine in and treatment set up and we will bring you home”. Instead the Liberal attitude was, your choice, go ahead and die. Trudeau is drafting legislation to euthanize people without their consent..how far will that go? Until we don’t have any homeless any more? Until we don’t have any mentally ill? That’s a slippery slope, I think we’d better be cautious about opening that door. I pay taxes..paid them 60 years or so..to save lives. Bring that dialysis machine in. WGH found a big room for their plastic dolls..because somehow we have become a teaching hospital..they can find space for that machine...just do the right thing..I carry a piece of Terry’s death because I did not get in the fight that might have saved his life. I’ll be in this one though.. it’s so easy..just do the right thing.

Up 40 Down 4

drum on Feb 14, 2020 at 7:36 pm

The numbers are not true. We must include all the people that have died because they did not want to leave their families and live by themselves in Vancouver.
We have more than enough people who need this treatment to have it here. This Government have to get the facilities here. I am so fed up with the Taxpayers (fundraising) having to work to get proper medical facilities in this territory.

Up 18 Down 17

BnR on Feb 14, 2020 at 5:44 pm

"Fighting chronic diseases is one of the six priorities highlighted by the N.W.T. government in that plan. More than 450 N.W.T. residents have been identified as having kidney disease, Healy said. This is due to rising obesity rates and diabetes, as well as high rates of smoking."
Rising rates of obesity, diabetes and high rates of smoking.....
Poor lifestyle choices one and all.

Up 54 Down 19

JC on Feb 14, 2020 at 4:30 pm

Ask Larry the cheque writer. Oh wait, it not election time yet. And 4 years off is a long time. Had you asked him last September, you might have got it. Now, you gotta wait till the next election.

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