BELCOURT A state-of-the-art kidney dialysis center opened in Belcourt this past week a tribute to the perseverence of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the cooperation of medical providers.
The tribe, Trinity Health and Indian Health Service participated in a grand opening celebration for the Melvin Lenoir Dialysis Center Thursday. The center replaces an older clinic that had out-lived its ability to continue serving the community.
Former dialysis patient Carla Wilkie of Belcourt was among those who welcomed the new clinic.
Submitted Photo • Lynne Lenoir-Allick cuts the ribbon on the new dialysis clinic in Belcourt Thursday. Looking on are her husband, Ben Allick, right, and, from left, Curtis Poitra, tribal vice chairman, and Merle St. Claire, tribal chairman. Lenoir-Allick is the daughter of the late Melvin Lenoir, for whom the clinic is named.
Submitted Photo • Members of the Melvin Lenoir Dialysis Center staff, from left, are Janna Mikkelsen, Lori Lagge, Wendy Armstrong, Alicia Lorenz, Jessi Poitra, Dr. Nasser Saffarian and Shelly Koistinen.
"It's very much needed in our community," she said. "It was so nice to see this new center because it is so beautiful and they have more room, more chairs, so they can serve more patients."
Wilkie, who received a transplanted kidney from her husband last year, had been among patients vying for space in the old unit.
"Before I was able to do dialysis at Belcourt, I had to travel to Minot, back and forth, three times a week, because they didn't have enough chairs available. There was a waiting list for people," she said.
The Belcourt unit eventually found room for her, but when the building flooded in February 2011, Wilkie again took to the road for a few months to get treatment in Minot.
"We've had patients traveling to Minot for dialysis service for about five years now," said Wendy Armstrong, assistant nurse manager in charge of the Belcourt unit. Recently, four people have been making the trip, but numbers have been as high as 11, she said.
The new clinic will eliminate that need to travel.
"Now we are able to accommodate all those patients. We had six dialysis chairs at the old building. Now we have 12 stations so we have doubled in size," she said. "And now we have a brand new, beautiful building."
The new building offers state-of-the-art equipment, including a reverse osmosis water system that is important in the treatment process.
"We have so much more room more room for storage. We were really short on storage space in our old building," Armstrong said. Restrooms also are larger and better suited for people with disabilities.
Lori Lagge, nurse manager of dialysis services with Trinity, said the new facility is a huge plus.
"It's just such a safer environment. It's so homey and it's so much more condusive to give better patient care," she said.
The tribe raised $1.7 million to build the new facility. Curtis Poitra, vice chairman of the tribal council, spearheaded the effort.
"It was priority one for me," said Poitra, whose mother was on dialysis when she died in November 2010.
It was after the building flooded that replacement became urgent. Although repaired, the building no longer met the standards of the accreditation commission or Center for Medicare & Medicaid to remain in service.
Poitra traveled to the regional office in Denver to advocate for a waiver, promising a new building by August 2012.
"We made it," he said.
Poitra credited the support of private donors and of IHS, which provided funding from its Washington, D.C., and Aberdeen Area regional directors' emergency funds. He credited the efforts of the prime contractor, Construction Engineering of Grand Forks, in helping achieve the August deadline.
"There were obstacles. We would hit roadblocks. Right up to bat when we dug the foundation, we found buried parts of a building there," he said. The excavation costs came to unanticipated $77,000 that needed to be raised.
Poitra also credited other members of the tribal council, especially Jeff "BJ" Delorme, who frequently joined him on his lobbying trips.
"By the time we got the last dollars in place, the security guards at the federal building in Aberdeen knew BJ and I by name," Poitra said.
All the worrying and scrambling for funding ended, though, when the clinic opened its doors last Monday.
"I was there at 6 o'clock in the morning with the first patients. The looks on their faces said it all," Poitra said."It was more than worth it."
"When they walked in on Monday morning, their eyes were big," Armstrong said of the patients.
She estimated about 20 patients from the Belcourt area currently receive dialysis, but there are additional patients expected to begin receiving services soon.
The dialysis unit has hired four more staff members. Operating three shifts, the center now employs eight nurses and a ward secretary. The center has capacity to serve up to 36 patients a day. It currently is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Patients typically require about three days of dialysis a week, lasting three to four hours.
Lynne Allick attended the grand opening on behalf of her father, Melvin Lenoir, who was honored for his efforts in bringing dialysis to the Turtle Mountain Reservation in 1990. The first clinic also was named after him.
Before the clinic, her father used to drive her sister, who died in 1994, back and forth to Minot three times a week for dialysis, Allick said. Her two brothers also required dialysis prior to their deaths.
Allick said her father, who died in 1997, would be proud to see the new clinic, although not because his name is on a plaque.
"He would tell the people, 'This isn't something for me. It's for you,'" she said.
Trinity spokesman Randy Schwan said the Belcourt community and its leaders showed tremendous dedication in working to maintain dialysis services.
"The tribal council members were passionate about getting this done for their people," Schwan said. "They just had an incredible resolve to provide kidney dialysis service in Belcourt. It was truly inspiring to see them, as a group and as a Belcourt community, come together for this kind of important service."
The added capacity at the Belcourt clinic creates the potential to provide backup service to other clinics in the region during emergencies. For instance, during the flood in Minot, Trinity had to close its unit due to water quality and quantity issues, forcing patients to look elsewhere for treatment during that interim.
"The number of places where you can get dialysis is very limited in North Dakota," Schwan said. "It's just good news for the whole region that we have increased capacity in Belcourt."