On our radar: Maine dialysis centers may be bought by dialysis corporate giant—what’s at stake for patients?

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Three dialysis clinics run by the nonprofit hospital Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) may soon be purchased by one of the country’s largest for-profit dialysis companies, Total Renal Care, Inc., a subsidiary of Colorado-based DaVita, Inc. The deal is expected to close early this summer after a state review process.

What will happen to Maine’s dialysis patients, if DaVita, a Fortune 500 company that operates more than 1,800 dialysis clinics in 43 states and saw nearly $7 billion in revenues and $478 million in profits in 2012, takes over EMMC’s dialysis clinics? By comparison, no other dialysis operator owns more than 300 clinics. DaVita and a German corporate chain, operate almost two-thirds of all dialysis clinics in the U.S. Would this buy out improve the quality and safety for Maine dialysis patients or reduce it?

In the U.S., the stakes are high for the 400,000 American patients who need dialysis to stay alive. Dialysis is a treatment that cleans the blood for patients with kidney failure. A 2010 ProPublica investigation revealed that dialysis patients often received treatment in environments that were unsafe or unsanitary, though these problems were not specific to any particular provider, and clinics were rarely inspected for safety. Because information about clinics’ rates of mortality and infection was not readily available to consumers through the government, ProPublica posted this information on their website and they update it regularly. You can put “DaVita” in the search box to see the official record of the company’s facilities.

Some patient safety advocates, like Kathy Day of Bangor, Maine, are deeply concerned that the sale of EMMC dialysis clinics to DaVita may cause problems for dialysis patients in her state. “We do not need DaVita,” she told us. “EMMC already has a fine dialysis service. Turning over control and governance of Northern Maine dialysis services to a huge for-profit corporation from Denver, CO is simply wrong for Mainers and it may cause many problems for some of our sickest neighbors.”

Though dialysis patients are granted comprehensive health coverage under Medicare, that doesn’t mean their care is secure. Dialysis patients who are vocal about problems they have with their care might find themselves in a tough spot if the facility determines that they will no longer treat the patient. In its 2010 investigation, ProPublica wrote about a patient who experienced this hardship after he went to a DaVita clinic.

With so much money and human lives at stake, Maine residents and patient safety advocates may also want to see what the Bangor Daily News has reported about the purchase, including an op-ed by a Maine doctor published last week about why he supports the sale.

Maine’s state health department will hold a public hearing next month on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10am at Spectacular Events (395 Griffin Road) in Bangor for Mainers to raise issues or concerns about this proposal.

If you live near Bangor, Maine and are concerned about the treatment of dialysis patients, join Maine advocate Kathy Day in voicing your opinions about this proposal at the state public hearing on July 10.