SASKATOON -- Kristine Smith says she has been told by a Quality Care care coordinator with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) that she must wear a face mask or she can no longer receive kidney dialysis treatments at Victoria Hospital.

Smith says she has claustrophobia and covering her airways with a mask causes her mental anguish and to panic.

“I relate it to someone coming up behind me, putting their hand over my face and my nose like a mugging would be. I go into a panic, my heart starts to race. I have dry mouth, all symptoms of claustrophobic reaction,” she said.

The staff at the dialysis unit in Victoria Hospital had been accommodating her by allowing her to wear a face shield and isolating her, however, on Aug. 5 Smith says she was told she had to wear a face mask or forgo treatment.

Smith says she has a doctor’s note from a nephrologist to explaining why she can't wear a mask but an SHA employee said the note should not have been written and the SHA has ultimate authority over the dialysis unit.

Smith says she missed dialysis for five days because of the dispute. She says finally went for dialysis Aug. 12 but could not stand the mask on her face after about two hours and left the unit instead of receiving her usual four hours of treatment.

She says doctors have told her that without dialysis, toxins will build up in her system and fluid could pool around her heart and threaten her life.

On Aug. 14, Smith says she was told she was told by a Quality Care care coordinator that because she was frustrated with staff during her last treatment she won't be allowed to come to Victoria Hospital for treatment for the time being and she would have to travel to Saskatoon instead.

Smith says she feels bullied by health authority staff. Smith says, at no time has the Quality Care co-ordinator offered her therapy or other resources to deal with the claustrophobia or any concessions to try to find space for her to isolate herself while on dialysis.

“I'm so worried about not being able to get my dialysis, my life-sustaining therapy. It's very import so it's caused me a lot of stress, a lot,” Smith says.

An auto-immune disease damaged Smith’s kidneys leaving her kidney function of only about four percent. Without dialysis, Smith would die from the condition.

When reached for comment, the SHA said it does not comment on specific cases to protect the privacy of the patient and individuals involved.

“The SHA does not refuse anyone treatment. All dialysis patients at the Prince Albert Victoria Hospital satellite unit are required by SHA policy to wear masks during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic," Vice President of Integrated Northern Health Andrew McLetchie said in a statement.

The SHA said the decision to have all dialysis patients wear masks was to protect dialysis patients as they are at higher risk for negative outcomes related to COVID-19.

“And because the treatments take multiple hours which also increases risk of viral transmission. This policy is consistent at the dialysis home units in Saskatoon and Regina,” Letchie said.

Smith says she hopes Victoria Hospital finds a way to accommodate her and other people in the province who have difficulties with face masks.