New bill to combat understaffing in California dialysis clinics, including 15 in Contra Costa, three in Antioch

By Sean Wherley

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced legislation, on Wednesday, to improve staffing at more than 550 dialysis clinics in California.

SB 349, the Dialysis Patient Safety Act, would mandate annual inspections of dialysis clinics and safer staffing levels. Current law requires inspections of dialysis clinics every six years, while nursing homes in California must be inspected every year, and hospitals every two years.

This legislation would affect 15 dialysis clinics in Contra Costa County: three each in Antioch and Walnut Creek; two each in Pittsburg and San Pablo; and one each in Brentwood, Concord, El Cerrito, Pleasant Hill and Richmond.

“Dialysis patients are grandparents, children and siblings not numbers on a balance sheet,” said Lara. “It’s time to fix the dialysis industry and improve patient care for the more than 63,000 Californians who rely on this life-saving treatment in clinics daily.”

Dialysis is necessary 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.

The two largest dialysis corporations – DaVita and Fresenius – make $2.9 billion a year in profits from their dialysis operations in the United States, but workers say the companies pocket the money rather than improve patient care or provide adequate staffing in their clinics.

Dialysis workers regularly report staffing levels so low that it threatens patient care. One worker cited an incident last March at a dialysis clinic in Anaheim, Calif. in which a patient collapsed in the parking lot. The worker said it could have been prevented if more staff were onsite at the time. Seven states already have minimum staffing levels in dialysis clinics: Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Dialysis workers in California have been organizing into a union, 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.

Wherley is the Media Relations Specialist with SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West.

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