Dialysis series finds problems nationally and locally

Earlier this week, the news research group ProPublica released the latest story in its package on the quality of care at dialysis units. The investigative reporters there looked at federal data on the quality of care for patients in the $20 billion a year government program and called their findings “bleak.”

Nearly 40 years after Congress created a unique entitlement for patients with kidney failure, U.S. death rates and per-patient costs are among the world’s highest while the biggest for-profit providers flourish… At clinics from coast to coast, patients commonly receive treatment in settings that are unsanitary and prone to perilous lapses in care. Regulators have few tools and little will to enforce quality standards. Industry consolidation has left patients with fewer choices of provider. The government has withheld critical data about clinics’ performance from patients, the very people who need it most. Meanwhile, the two corporate chains that dominate the dialysis-care system are consistently profitable, together making about $2 billion in operating profits a year

One of those chains is DaVita, which runs 12 dialysis programs in the Boston area along with hundreds nationwide. According to the federal data, most homes in the region met minimum quality standards. But the DaVita dialysis center in New Bedford was flagged for having unusually high death rates. In other words, some kidney disease patients on dialysis die, but this center saw more deaths than expected.  

 Skip Thurman of Davita disagreed. In an email, he said the federal data collection “could be expanded and improved” and is only useful if all companies are held to “the same consistent, rigorous standards in reporting,” the statement read. “The mortality rate at this clinic is consistent with the patient profile.” The company sent a detailed response to ProPublica.

Check out the entire series and the accompanying databases here. And, check out the other work by ProPublica, which also tracks speaker fee payments from drug companies to doctors.

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