Local dialysis patients increasingly concerned as pandemic spreads


HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Concerns are being raised about dialysis patients in Hampton Roads. 

Unlike other immunocompromised people, the vast majority of dialysis patients can’t quarantine in their homes to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Many have no choice but to undergo the necessary treatment at a medical facility. 

Dialysis treatments right now are especially tricky. Most are conducted at outpatient clinics where patients are packed into one room, pretty close together. 

The companies who run these facilities say they’re taking all the necessary precautions to keep patients and staff safe. But some patients still worry if it’s enough. 

WAVY News spoke with representatives of the two biggest dialysis companies in America, Davita Kidney Care and Fresenius Kidney Care who have clinics across Hampton Roads. 

Both companies say they’re following strict CDC guidelines. 

“We are in contact with the CDC constantly,” explained Mandy Hale, the vice president of nursing for Davita. “We discuss things particular to Dialysis. These are very detailed communications.”

Everyone who walks through the clinic door is screened, questions are asked and their temperature is taken. It’s also mandatory for everyone to wear masks at all times while in the clinic. Only essential personnel are allowed inside, no visitors. 

Anyone with possible COVID-19 symptoms is treated during a special time or at an isolated facility. While they have designated facilities specifically for patients with coronavirus, Davita and Fresenius recently announced an unprecedented collaboration. 

A press release sent out by Fresenius reads: “A critical aim of this collaboration is to keep dialysis patients out of the hospital whenever possible, freeing up limited hospital resources. The companies are focused on ensuring there are enough nurses, social workers, dietitians, care technicians, and available space to treat all dialysis patients, including those who are or may be infected with COVID-19 – in a manner that does not unnecessarily expose the hundreds of thousands of other patients who entrust them with their care.”

Local dialysis patient Padraig Dalrymple fears the precautions still aren’t enough. 

“They’re following CDC guidelines sure but let’s think about CDC guidelines being the bare minimum of what needs to be done,” said Dalrymple. 

Dalrymple is a member of Virginia Beach EMS and a former “Hotshot” federal firefighter. He says clinics should be treating the outbreak as a hazmat situation. He’s concerned about patients and staff who could be asymptomatic, unknowingly putting the whole clinic at risk. 

One of Dalrymple’s main concerns is the lack of social distancing between patients during treatments. The distance between chairs varies from clinic to clinic, but Dalrymple says the majority are not six feet apart. 

“So right now, each dialysis patient is next to each dialysis patient. They’re not in every other chair or every third chair. They’re right next to each other, which is not far enough.”

Dalrymple said he would like to see clinic hours extended so patients can sit further apart. He says this would also allow fewer technicians and nurses on the floor at one time. 

Davita and Fresenius are both global companies. 

Representatives with Fresenius told 10 On Your Side the global nature of the company allowed them to understand the threat posed by COVID-19 before it hit the United States. Fresenius officials said they began prepping their U.S. clinics in January, ordering extra supplies and equipment. So far they have not experienced any shortages. 

“Patient safety and delivering superior care is always paramount and at the forefront of everything we do. We have been actively screening patients for COVID-19 since February and implemented strict infection control procedures and use of protective equipment which have met or exceeded federal guidelines. Patients who present symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 will be receiving treatment in separate clinics or shifts to help protect our patients, employees, and physician partners. Additionally, we are providing emotional support through our dedicated team of specialty care advocates and social workers, as well as expanding telehealth options for the benefit of our patients,” said Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Fresenius.

It’s a stressful situation for everyone, including healthcare workers. 

Mandy Hale with Davita says she’s proud of her team. 

“I am bursting with pride at the response of all of our clinicians. Our teams are changing their schedules and working their lives around taking care of patients. They’re showing up every day. This would be our nurses, our patient care technicians, dietitians, social workers, our administrative assistants, our managers, you name it.”

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