HBO Exposes Problems Plaguing Dialysis Industry, as CA Bill Seeks to Improve Patient Care

[May 16, 2017] LOS ANGELES – HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” broadcast a scathing segment last night about problems plaguing the dialysis industry, amidst efforts in California to improve staffing levels and patient safety at 562 dialysis clinics in the state, which provide life-saving treatment to 66,000 patients in the state.

During the 24-minute clip, which has been viewed more than 900,000 times on YouTube, host Oliver highlighted the dialysis industry’s practice of boosting profits through alleged schemes that resulted in million-dollar legal settlements for fraudulently billing for drugs and failing to disclose risks of medication. It also mentioned federal regulations that allow for woefully low staffing levels at dialysis clinics, and included excerpts from a dialysis company video in which the CEO compares his management of dialysis clinics to that of Taco Bell restaurants.

“The way dialysis companies put profits first and treat their patients and workers is awful,” said Megallan Handford, a registered nurse and dialysis worker from Corona, Calif., who is interviewed in the segment. “Comparing what happens in a Taco Bell to a dialysis clinic is an insult to all the patients who trust us with their lives.”

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 hours, and must be conducted three days a week for the rest of the patient’s life. More than 468,000 Americans receive daily treatment in dialysis clinics.

In California, a bill is moving through the legislature to mandate annual inspections of dialysis clinics, safer staffing levels and more time between patients to allow them to recover and for staff to sanitize equipment to reduce infections, the second-leading cause of death for dialysis patients. The bill has passed two committees in the State Senate and a vote by the full Senate is expected no later than June 2. More than 500 dialysis workers, patients and allies are expected to attend a May 23 rally in support of the bill at the state capitol in Sacramento, Calif.

Currently, dialysis clinics in California are inspected on average every five to six years, while nursing homes – and even restaurants – are inspected every year.

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 and patients say the companies pocket the money rather than use some of it to improve patient care or provide adequate staffing in their clinics.

Dialysis workers regularly report low staffing levels and say it threatens patient care. Eight states already have minimum staffing levels in dialysis clinics: Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Dialysis workers in California are trying to form a union with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) for safer working conditions, and stronger worker and patient protections. To learn more about the campaign, visit www.morethannumbers.org.

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