Statewide Ballot Initiative Filed in California to Improve Dialysis Patient Care

Statewide Ballot Initiative Filed in California to Improve Dialysis Patient Care

[Aug. 9, 2017] SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Dialysis patient care advocates filed a ballot initiative today for the November 2018 election in California that seeks to improve patient care by placing minimum safety requirements on the 570 dialysis clinics in the state and limiting the amount dialysis companies can charge patients.

“I’ve been on dialysis for 2.5 years, and for much of that time I felt like the corporation cared more about its profits than me,” said Amar Bajwa, a dialysis patient from Fontana, Calif. “I see it by how rushed and understaffed the workers are, and we need this initiative to force the dialysis corporations to put profits into patient care, not executives’ pockets.”

Dialysis is a life-saving procedure that removes a patient’s blood, cleans it, and then puts it back in his or her body. Patients must go to a clinic three days a week, for three to four hours each time. More than 66,000 Californians rely on dialysis.

The proposed ballot initiative, the Kidney Dialysis Patient Protection Act, would do the following:

  1. Require annual inspections of dialysis clinics in California;
  2. Require safer staffing levels at dialysis clinics in California;
  3. Require more recovery time for patients at dialysis clinics in California; and
  4. Limit the amount dialysis patients may be charged for care in California.

Advocates expect to receive the initiative’s title and summary from the California Attorney General by mid-October, 2017. That allows them to begin collecting the 365,880 signatures from registered California voters needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot. Signatures must be submitted to county election officials before mid-April, 2018.

The two largest dialysis corporations – DaVita and Fresenius – made a combined $3.9 billion in profits from their dialysis operations in the United States in 2016 but fiercely resist efforts to reform the industry. They charge patients with private health insurance 345 percent of the actual cost of treatment, and dialysis clinics in California overall are only inspected on average every five to six years.

The two largest companies’ unwritten policy is that no worker be assigned more than four patients at a time, but dialysis workers have reported situations where they must monitor and care for 12 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.

The ballot initiative is being pursued while a related bill is moving through the California Legislature. SB 349, The Dialysis Patient Safety Act, requires annual inspections of dialysis clinics, safer staffing levels and more recovery time for patients. The bill passed the California Senate in May and awaits a vote in the California Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Dialysis workers in California have been trying to form a union with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) since 2016, and DaVita has fired five employees and disciplined an additional 18 workers following their advocacy of SB 349 and the union campaign since October 2016.