PARK RAPIDS, Minn. (Valley News Live) - For patients on dialysis, receiving regular treatment is a matter of life or death. That's why one Park Rapids, Minn. family says things are about to get much harder—as a local facility closes its doors next month.
Barbara Wheeler-Rasmussen lives a stone’s throw away from the Park Rapids DaVita Dialysis center—which she says has been great for her 84-year-old dad.
"When the roads are bad and the weather's bad it's very convenient because we're here,” she says. “We don't have to worry about him being on the road."
But that's about to change: She received a letter a couple weeks ago, saying the center made the "difficult decision" to close its doors on October 25, after exhausting any attempts to save costs.
"It's gonna be very, very inconvenient for all of us…it's devastating, really for the families. There's like 30 families here that use dialysis every week," Wheeler-Rasmussen says.
Now her dad will have to travel to Detroit Lakes, which is at least 45 minutes away in good weather.
"In bad weather who knows," she says. "…Last winter the weather was terrible. And that's not good because it's a death sentence if they don't get their dialysis."
And the 84-year-old will make the trek three times a week. Wheeler-Rasmussen says her dad will take a bus with a few other patients.
The Park Rapids center is closed on Thursday. But a statement sent to Valley News Live faults a "broken system" in health care—saying in part, “…our center is financially unsustainable. Dialysis providers are underpaid for the care we give to 90 percent of patients...”
The statement explains that's because those 90 percent “are covered by government programs that fail to cover the actual cost of dialysis treatment.”
Wheeler-Rasmussen says her dad is one of the 90 percent under a government program.
"The veterans paid for my dad,” she says. “And had no problem at all."
The center says it's “an issue that disproportionately harms rural areas like Park Rapids, where patients have fewer options for care.”
"The doctors are here,” Wheeler-Rasmussen says, “he knows the nurses and the social workers and everybody. They love him and he loves them."
Wheeler-Rasmussen says the center's been helpful in placing her dad somewhere else:
"It's gonna be starting all over again,” she says, “and it's hard at 84 to do that."
She says her dad will already start traveling to Detroit Lakes on Monday.
We reached out to Sanford and Essentia about the matter to find out if the healthcare providers will try to replace the center. A spokesperson for Sanford tells us it has been working with patients to help place them under new care for dialysis treatments. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Essentia tells us it is “exploring options to have dialysis services in Park Rapids. We understand the importance of care close to home."
Below is the statement from DaVita Dialysis in its entirety:
“We recently made the difficult decision to close Park Rapids Dialysis effective October 25, after exhausting all other options that would keep the doors open. In the weeks ahead of closing, we are working with each patient to find the best treatment option for their continued care at neighboring dialysis centers.
“The fact is, our center is financially unsustainable. Dialysis providers are underpaid for the care we give to 90 percent of patients, who are covered by government programs that fail to cover the actual cost of dialysis treatment. As a result, a mix of government-funded and privately-paid patients is essential for dialysis clinics to stay afloat. When that mix falls too low for too long, it’s impossible for clinics like Park Rapids to stay open.
This broken system is an issue that all dialysis providers face. It is also an issue that disproportionately harms rural areas like Park Rapids, where patients have fewer options for care. We will continue to push for change to build a sustainable ecosystem that creates better ensure access to high-quality care for everyone in need – no matter their location.”
Park Rapids Dialysis opened in 2013.