Every year, taxpayers in this country spend an estimated $20 billion through the health care system for those who need to receive life-saving kidney dialysis, costing nearly $80,000 per patient.
But even so, our Bangor medical malpractice attorneys understand that mortality rates involving U. . dialysis patients are among the highest in the industrialized world, according to a lengthy investigation by news source ProPublica.
The research suggests that, all other things equal, if America’s dialysis system was as efficient as those of Japan, France or Italy, thousands of fewer dialysis patients would die every year. Although some 400,000 sufferers of kidney disease or failure would not be able to survive without the procedure, ProPublica’s investigation suggests that too often, we’re seeing cases of deaths that simply should not happen.
In the course of reviewing thousands of inspections reports and interviewing over 100 patients, doctors, researchers, advocates, industry experts and legislators, ProPublic came to the conclusion that all across the country, patients “commonly” were given their dialysis treatments in places that were unsanitary. What’s worse, providers are apparently prone to lapses in care, and there is a lack of regulation to ensure facilities abide by certain quality standards.
The number of kidney patients is reportedly growing by 3 percent each year with the aging of baby boomers – a risk group that now accounts for two-thirds of hepatitis C patients, which is a known heightened risk for renal disease. We are also seeing younger and younger patients who receive this treatment.
In one recent case, out of Arizona, a 39-year-old husband and new father of a 2-month-old daughter died after receiving his third dialysis treatment. According to the investigation, a technician panicked after a tube loosened, spraying blood everywhere, and she inadvertently reconnected the tube – incorrectly. He was thus infused with contaminated blood. He died about a week later, after developing a staph infection that rapidly progressed to his heart and then his brain.
While cases like this may not be an every-day occurrence, the fact is, dialysis treatments are often done with little medical supervision on-site. Most of the process is handled by technicians, who are required only a high school diploma, a company training course and passage of a test to become certified.
This is not necessarily the case at every facility, but it is common enough to be a serious concern. ProPublica reviewed inspection reports revealing dried blood on the floors, walls and folds of patients’ chairs. Some facilities were overrun with pests. One in North Carolina was investigated after a patient, complaining of the ants, was handed a can of pest spray by a staffer.
Even more troubling, many of those clinics were cited for failures to limit exposure to infections such as HIV, tuberculosis, staph and hepatitis. In New York, one center was shuttered after cross-contamination problems resulted in three patients becoming newly infected with hepatitis C in the course of half a year. In numerous cases, patients had to be hospitalized and sometimes died due to hemorrhages when the needles or tubes become undone or technicians aren’t meticulously following safety guidelines.
ProPublica, in an effort to create a more open system for patients, created a searchable dialysis database to give patients and family members an opportunity to research dialysis facilities in their area.
In Bangor, there are four dialysis centers listed, and half of those had higher than the national average in terms of mortality, or deaths per 100 patients between 2007 and 2010. The national average is 20 percent. The statewide average for Maine is 22 percent. The Bangor dialysis facilities were given mortality rates ranging between 16 percent to 29 percent.
Infection rates for septicemia for those four facilities ranged from 8 to 12 percent. Collectively, those four Bangor facilities had been cited for eight standard deficiencies during the last inspection.