When Renal Care Group Alaska opens a kidney dialysis center in Juneau early next spring, the company will be taking a large financial risk.
But considering it may keep hundreds of patients in Southeast Alaska with kidney problems from heading south or to Anchorage for treatment, the risk is worth it, said Charlotte Richards, executive director of the Bartlett Regional Hospital Foundation.
"It will keep people here in Juneau that would otherwise have to move away, and it will keep their families here," said Richards.
The foundation provided $200,000 in seed money for the million-dollar center. Renal Care Group Alaska, part of a larger Nashville-based chain of kidney dialysis centers, will put up the rest of the money.
The center, located in the Mendenhall Mall, will be named after George Reifenstein, a deceased doctor whose wife, Pat, donated the money for the center in his name.
In the end stages of kidney failure, when patients lose 85 to 90 percent of their kidney function, dialysis is used to keep patients healthy. Kidney dialysis machines can replace kidney function until transplant organs can be found. They remove wastes from the body, ensure the balance of chemicals in the blood and maintain normal blood pressure.
In some cases, a patient can need to use a dialysis machine three times per week. Some types of dialysis can be provided by a portable machine used in the patient's home. Patients who need their blood cleaned a bit at a time, though, must move to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla or down south for treatment. With dialysis, a patient can live an average of 10 to 12 years.
The dialysis center in Juneau will have eight dialysis stations. The Renal Care Group will contract with Bartlett Regional Hospital to operate one dialysis station in the hospital, Richards said.
The center will have about five staff members, some hired locally and others recruited nationally, said Jean Stevens, director of operations for Renal Care Group Alaska.
"Being that there's not a local person who has the kind of knowledge and experience (to operate) kidney dialysis centers, I'm recruiting from Outside for an experienced manager," she said.
Dr. Jeremy Gitomer, the medical director for Renal Care Group Alaska, will visit the Juneau dialysis center once a month, Stevens said.
"The patients are relatively stable, and with an experienced nursing staff we'll be able to manage their care," she said. "This is a very common practice in other parts of the U.S."
Though Renal Care Group Alaska does not know for certain how many patients the Juneau center will treat, the company is confident it will be used.
"We are certainly getting a number of inquiries from people who have moved away and who may want to come back, or people who have family (in Juneau) and want to live there," said Stevens.
The center has been a goal of the Bartlett Regional Hospital Foundation since the Bartlett House, a lodging facility for family members of patients, opened in 1999, Richards said.
"Since the hospital foundation has started we have worked on doing things primarily for the hospital and for the whole region - needs that just couldn't come about by regular budgets," she said.