A ribbon-cutting was held Tuesday for a new 16-chair renal dialysis center located on the campus of Elk Regional Health System in St. Marys.
The newly constructed Renal CarePartners of St. Marys Dialysis Facility, situated behind the building housing Community Nurses, Inc. and ERHC's outpatient rehabilitation center, was designed with the goal of providing top-quality nephrology and renal dialysis services, and making those services more accessible and convenient to residents in the region.
According to Jim Spafford, vice president of operations for Renal CarePartners, the dialysis center was a collaborative effort between ERHS, Renal CarePartners, Hamot Medical Center in Erie and nephrologists Dr. Ashok Chaddah and Dr. Gwendolyn Akers.
"When you do something like this, you have one thing in mind: to provide high-quality, exemplary dialysis care for patients in a community that needs the facility," Spafford said.
"The advantage to a joint venture is that you get a number of interested parties that come together in cooperation."
Gregory P. Bauer, President and CEO of Elk Regional Health System, said RenalCare Partners and ERHS share the goals of providing patient-first, quality healthcare.
"We partnered with Renal CarePartners not only because they have facilities across the country, but because they also have an excellent reputation for providing superior renal dialysis services," Bauer said.
The previous dialysis clinic at Elk Regional consisted of nine chairs and was on the hospital's third floor, with shared parking between the clinic, the Health Center and the Medical Office Building. The new one-level building, which has large windows with forest views, has its own parking area and was designed to shorten walking distances and provide better accessibility for patients. It is also connected to Pinecrest Manor, ERHS's long-term care facility, by a heated, enclosed tunnel.
The cost to build the dialysis center was $1.2 million, with construction time taking a little over three months. The first patient walked through the doors in October.
Libby Herbstritt, the facility's renal dietician and a certified diabetic educator, said kidneys are a filtering system for toxins that enter the body. When kidneys no longer function, dialysis takes the place of the kidneys and helps rid the body and blood of toxins, as well as eliminating excess water that could cause renal failure.
Herbstritt helps patients with their diets and monitors their phosphorous and potassium levels to ensure a safe range.
"Because their kidneys aren't working, those two levels go high," Herbstritt said. She also monitors a blood plasma protein, albumin, to ensure it is at a proper level.
The dialysis center accommodates two shifts of adult patients with 16 patients in the first shift and 14 in the second shift. Mary Thorwart, administrative assistant and a certified Clinical Hemodialysis Technician at the facility, said the additional chairs at the CarePartners dialysis center allow for more patients to be treated more comfortably and with less waiting time. The normal dialysis treatment time is a little over two hours, but some patients may be in dialysis treatment for over five hours.
"In general, the larger the patient, the longer it takes to get rid of toxins and clean up their blood," Thorwart said.
In addition to the 16 hemodialysis stations, there is also an isolation station and home dialysis programs, as well as equipment for peritoneal dialysis, a treatment for people with severe kidney disease. The dialysis machines at each station are programmed for individual patients.
The equipment includes deep reclining chairs and small flat-screen televisions at each station. New patients receive a bag to store personal items and a blanket and pillow to add to their relaxation during dialysis.
Alison Newara, RN, the clinic administrator, said the new center provides many amenities for patients.
"Everything is so brand-new and state-of-the-art," she said. "The windows and the aesthetics are just gorgeous, and everything's on one floor."
Nurses and other healthcare professionals at the facility handle day-to-day operations and the dialysis sessions, which most patients require three times a week. They also do monthly checks and adjust any medications accordingly. The physicians at the facility generally see patients once a month.
Akers said the new facility helps cater to the growing number of patients in the region who must be placed on dialysis.
"We saw the need rise," she said. "There's more and more people who are requiring this."
For more on this story, see the Dec. 1 edition of The Daily Press.