June 6, 2017
By Jerry Levine, LaborPress USA
Sacramento, CA – California is closer to enacting major reforms in the dialysis industry that would improve patient care for 66,000 people and staffing at 562 dialysis clinics under legislation passed by the California Senate.
SB 349, The Dialysis Patient Safety Act, now heads to the California Assembly for consideration. SB 349 calls for annual inspections of dialysis clinics, safer staffing levels and more recovery time for patients. In California, dialysis clinics are inspected on average only once every five to six years, whereas nursing homes in the state must be inspected every year, and even restaurants receive annual inspections.
The two largest dialysis corporations – DaVita and Fresenius – made $2.9 billion in profits from their dialysis operations in the United States in 2015, but workers say the companies are not spending enough to improve patient care or provide adequate staffing in their clinics. Dialysis workers have reported situations where they must monitor and care for ten or more patients at the same time for hours on end, raising concerns when multiple patients are at risk of falling blood pressure, fainting, having some other complication or just needing to use the restroom. Eight states already have minimum staffing levels in dialysis clinics: Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. California would become the first state to enact such changes through legislation, whereas the other states did it through agency rulemaking.
“In my dialysis clinic, the workers are often stretched thin and that scares me if my blood pressure was to drop and they couldn’t get to me in time,” said Marianette Smith, a dialysis patient from Sacramento, Calif. “I would feel a lot safer knowing that there are more trained staff on call at all times caring for me and other patients, and enough time for us to recover from our treatments and the workers to clean and maintain the equipment properly.”
Dialysis is a life-saving treatment for people with kidney failure who must have their blood removed, cleaned, and put back into their bodies. A typical treatment lasts three to four hours, and must be conducted three days a week for the rest of the patient’s life. The legislation mandates 45 minutes between patients to allow more time for them to recover and for staff to sanitize the equipment. Infections are the second leading cause of death for dialysis patients. Dialysis workers in California have been uniting in a union, SEIU-UHW, for safer working conditions and stronger worker and patient protections.