CLACKAMAS, Ore. (KPTV) – Some patients requiring life-sustaining dialysis treatment face long waiting lists to be admitted to outpatient clinics.
Doctors and patients say it is due to staff shortages at these clinics.
Brian Hastings is one example among many who have experienced the situation firsthand.
He spent more than a month in the hospital undergoing dialysis treatment.
He’s otherwise healthy and didn’t have to stay in the hospital that long, but he couldn’t get to an ambulance.
“As I have stage IV kidney disease, I wouldn’t live long without dialysis,” Hastings said.
On December 9, Hastings said he underwent fistula surgery, which involves connecting an artery to a vein, before a patient is given dialysis treatment.
He says he spent about a week in recovery at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center.
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“I was ready to check out, they’re like, ‘Hey, how do you want to go today,'” Hastings said. “I said excellent, I can see my friends; i can have christmas They say yes, we can’t, there is no room for outpatient treatment. You have to spend the holidays here in the hospital.”
FOX 12 spoke to Dr. Micah Thorp, a nephrologist at Kaiser Permanente.
He says he’s seen Hastings in hospital a couple of times.
“Basically, the problem is that the outpatient dialysis units are understaffed, and when we discharge patients we need an outpatient dialysis chair that they can walk to,” said Dr. Thorp. “Otherwise they just end up coming back to the ER.”
dr Thorp says many patients are in similar situations right now.
“Right now there are patients in the hospital who wouldn’t otherwise be in the hospital, who could go home if it weren’t for the fact that there isn’t a place where they can have outpatient dialysis,” said Dr. Thorp. “It’s something that has gradually gotten worse over the past few months, the current spike has probably accelerated that.”
dr Thorp says this is putting a heavy strain on hospital systems.
He says health leaders have been talking to lawmakers and the Oregon Board of Health about how to address this staffing crisis.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Dr. Thorp. “I think we are reaching a crisis point. It is frightening. I am very concerned about what will happen to the patients. I am concerned about our ability to care for them both in hospital and on outpatient dialysis. You know we’re really getting to a point where the system seems to be collapsing under the pressure.”
As hospital systems try to function amid these mounting pressures, patients have struggled with loneliness as hospitals have had to implement visitor restrictions during the pandemic.
Hastings says isolation has been extremely difficult during his stay.
“The hospital tried to do everything they could to support me, to make sure I was active and busy giving myself the freedoms I needed – but at the end of the day, I’m not living life,” Hastings said. “And I’ve been in Clackamas, my home is Beaverton, and I haven’t been able to be with my friends and family.”
“I think he’s quite exemplary of what a lot of patients go through,” said Dr. Thorp. “You know it’s depressing, it’s scary. They know we’re doing our best to give people as much interaction as possible.”
Both agree that this setup doesn’t work for anyone.
“The problem is clearly the staff, we need nurses,” said Dr. Thorp. “We need nurses who can do dialysis, we also need them in the outpatient dialysis units and dialysis technicians.”
“It’s very important that we have these chairs available for everyone,” Hastings said. “So people have their own sanity because I haven’t fared well with isolation.”
Hastings says the ambulance provider he was trying to reach was DaVita Kidney Care.
Jennie Funk, the division vice president, made this statement:
“Staff shortages during this challenging time have impacted our approval process. Because the most important factor in every decision we make is patient safety, we cannot accept more patients than we can safely treat. Along with others in the Oregon dialysis community, we are doing what we can in close partnership and coordination with the Oregon Health Authority. For those interested in a purpose-driven career in the kidney care community, visit Karriere.DaVita.com to apply for job opportunities in the Portland area.”
Another outpatient dialysis provider in the Portland metro area says it is being hit by labor shortages and is making changes to provide quality care to patients, including actively recruiting for a dialysis nurse residency program.