Temporarily shut down for almost a year, VA Maine’s outpatient dialysis center at Togus is now without equipment.

The equipment has been moved out of the space, but that does not mean the dialysis center is closed for good, according to Jonathan Barczyk, acting public affairs officer for VA Maine, who said the closure is temporary.

“We are still actively recruiting for a nurse manager,” he said. “It is still taking a while to find the right candidate.” 

The center was shut down abruptly in January

Barbara Wills’ husband, Ron, was one of the 25 patients undergoing regular outpatient dialysis treatments when the center closed. 

Ron Wills is a veteran of the U.S. Army, and Barbara said he was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military to eliminate forest cover. Ron Wills receives dialysis treatment multiple times each week.

“The military (service members) does not want to deal with civilians,” Wills said. “They don’t understand.”

Getting dialysis outside is “awful,” she said.

According to an official statement from the VA Maine Healthcare System in January, the temporary shutdown of the outpatient dialysis center was caused by the unexpected departure of three dialysis nurses. To protect patient safety, system officials did not think treatments should continue at Togus until the center was restaffed with dialysis nurses.

The closure affected 25 patients who had undergone outpatient dialysis treatment. Those patients received notice of the shutdown through a letter from Dr. Ronnie C. Marrache, chief of medical services at VA Maine Healthcare System and Veterans Integrated Services Network 1 assistant chief of medicine, and Dr. Brad Schimelman, assistant chief of medicine and director of nephrology services.

Barczyk could not say when the center might reopen. A nurse manager and support staff need be hired.

“Once we place the nurse manager,” Barczyk said, “we will reequip the unit with new, updated equipment.” 

Wills thought it would not reopen. 

“Togus is not taking care of their veterans,” she said. “They are farming them out.” 

Marrache told the Kennebec Journal in January that there is a national nursing shortage. He said working with dialysis patients requires extra, specialized training, and nurses with that knowledge are even tougher to find.

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