Dialysis treatment now closer to home for Northern Berkshire patients

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NORTH ADAMS — For the past four years, Ed Lewis has been making the trip from his home in Williamstown to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield — a 35-minute drive — for dialysis treatments.

That commute has just been cut to 9 minutes.

"Being able to spend time with my family at night now will be great," said Lewis, who is in need of a kidney transplant. "Because it affects the family as much as it does the patient, sometimes even worse. It's a lot of stress on them."

Lewis, a former Williams College staffer, is among a group of Northern Berkshire residents who will now be able to get their treatments at the North Campus of Berkshire Medical Center in North Adams.

BMC will officially open a $2.2 million, nine-chair dialysis treatment center Thursday in what was the Doctor's Building of the former North Adams Regional Hospital. It will provide dialysis in morning and afternoon shifts Monday through Saturday.

Dialysis is a treatment that removes toxins from the bodies of patients whose kidneys can longer perform that function, a service that BMC's Renal Dialysis Program currently offers in Pittsfield and at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington.

Berkshire Health Systems, BMC's parent company, estimated that about 30 of the 140 patients receiving dialysis treatment in Pittsfield were Northern Berkshire residents.

The new treatment center is expected to ease transportation concerns for those patients, which is especially important because the treatment itself takes several hours in addition to the travel time and for most patients occurs three times a week.

"It's pretty stressful on the patients and they often times don't feel well [after treatment], so for these patients to have this close to home, it's more than just convenient," said Dr. David Henner. "When you have to travel a far distance to Pittsfield and back like they've been doing for years, it's a lot on them."

North Adams Regional Hospital closed abruptly in 2014 and Berkshire Health Systems was able to acquire its campus through the subsequent bankruptcy process in federal court later that year. Since first opening a satellite emergency, Berkshire Medical Center center has incrementally added services to the North Adams Campus.

In addition to dialysis—a service that was not offered at the former North Adams Regional Hospital prior to its closure—the campus now includes outpatient imaging services, the Neighborhood For Health and its array of services, mammography, outpatient general surgery, endoscopic care, urologic surgery, and more.

Lewis and Charles Fuqua, Williams College professor emeritus of classics, were on hand for Wednesday's announcement at the new facility.

David Phelps, BHS president and CEO, said dialysis is not a "high reimbursement service; this is a break-even service at best and one that's capital intense."

However, he said BHS, whose board approved the new dialysis center about a year ago, split up its dialysis treatment throughout the county because the travel is "terribly inconvenient" for patients.

"If you value an investment by what it means for the patients, it's a good investment," Phelps said. "If you look at it as a financial investment, very few people would make it."

Typically, dialysis providers are larger for-profit and nonprofit companies who centralize treatment, according to Phelps.

The Center's clinical manager is Kathleen Bianchi, RN, and caregivers will include Drs. Henner, Steven Lamontagne and Stephen Nelson, and Nurse Practitioner Sheila Silbsy, according to Berkshire Health Systems.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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