New dialysis center opens in Pittsfield, offering lifeline for patients
PITTSFIELD — Edith King of Pittsfield has been on dialysis for about two years, spending more than three hours in treatment three times a week.
The 80-year-old Pittsfield resident was all smiles Friday afternoon while sitting in one of the 21 stations at the new Berkshire Medical Center renal dialysis center on Conte Drive.
"This is fabulous," King said about the new center, which officially opened Jan. 8. "I feel like I don't have a kidney problem and I'm just sitting here, visiting people."
The opening of the Central County Dialysis Center marked the completion of Berkshire Medical Center's three-year, $6 million project to expand dialysis services. The center is open Monday through Saturday and is treating about 84 people a week.
The South County Renal Dialysis Center in Great Barrington was fully renovated last year and is open three days a week, serving about 20 patients in nine treatment chairs.
The North County Renal Dialysis Center opened in fall 2016, at the BMC North Campus, and has 12 treatment chairs, serving 35 patients Monday through Saturday.
While most hospitals across the country are moving away from in-house dialysis and opting to refer their patients to for-profit centers, Berkshire Medical Center decided to go in the opposite direction, said David Henner, the medical director of BMC Kidney Disease & Hypertension Center.
Compared with many other regions in the state, Berkshire County has a higher number of people who require dialysis, according to spokesman Michael Leary, who said that the financial health of BMC allowed the institution to meet that need.
"It is unusual for a hospital, or in fact any provider, to organize the service this way. Most hospitals have exited the business because the reimbursement available barely covers the cost of providing care and this is a very capital-intensive service," David Phelps, president and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, said in a statement: "As a result, in almost all areas of the state, this service is typically provided by large for-profit companies that often staff differently than we do, using fewer nursing hours for example, and in one centralized location for that region."
Berkshire Medical Center is one of two hospitals in the state that offers outpatient dialysis, Phelps said.
Henner said that survival rates and referrals for kidney transplants from dialysis centers at hospitals is often higher than at for-profit centers.
"This is life support for our patients," Henner said. "This is keeping our patients alive."
"If they're not feeling well, they still have to come in," said Jennifer Stover, a registered nurse and clinical manager. "No snow days."
Because patients spend so much time in treatment, not always feeling well afterward, BMC staff makes it a priority to ensure that their patients are comfortable, Henner said, whether it be getting them a warm blanket, cup of coffee or just chatting.
Last year was a difficult one for King, who lost two siblings and a nephew. At the time, she was getting her treatment at BMC's Medical Arts Complex.
The staff comforted her on rough days when she couldn't help but cry, she said.
Sandra Jordan, also 80, has been on dialysis for more than 10 years, receiving her treatment through Berkshire Medical Center.
The treatments might take up a significant amount of her week, but they allow her to live a normal life.
"I do all of my own housework," she said.
The Central County Dialysis Center also provides training to its patients who perform their own dialysis at home.
"If anyone asks me for an example of what makes Berkshire Health Systems different, this service is a prime example," Phelps said. "Only a strong health system with a focus on the community it serves will be able to make such a patient-focused service a reality for the most dependent members of our community."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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