Dialysis Patients Face Close-Up Risk From Coronavirus

DaVita and Fresenius have put in place similar measures in recent weeks to try to prevent infections. No one gets into a clinic without a fever check and a discussion about potential coronavirus symptoms. Their patients and employees are now required to wear masks.

The companies have also decided to separate patients either suspected or confirmed to have the virus, putting them either in different clinics or scheduling their treatments on other shifts. The companies have taken the unprecedented step of agreeing to shift patients between their respective sites, if necessary, so infected or potentially infected patients are not spreading the virus.

Both companies acknowledge concerns over shortages of supplies but say they continue to have enough. Every patient is handed a new mask for each visit, the companies say, and workers have adequate protective equipment.

But some workers are questioning whether the clinics are making sure as few people as possible are there. Social workers and dietitians are being asked to come to work when they do not provide direct patient care, and some are being enlisted to help screen patients or wipe off machines, tasks that are outside their usual duties and could put them at risk. “We could easily call our patients from home and provide support,” one worker said.

The dialysis clinics say they consider these workers essential to take care of their patients, many of whom are struggling during the crisis to get food or travel to the clinics. “You need a lot of hands,” said Mr. Rodriguez of DaVita.

Workers also complain that the clinics are slow to inform them about whether any of their colleagues have developed the virus. Fresenius says it discloses information about infections at its facilities, and DaVita says it shares information when appropriate.

Kisha Cox, a 45-year-old in Portland, Ore., said she was not particularly anxious about going to the DaVita clinic where she received dialysis. She says she is following the clinic’s new protocols about wearing masks and its advice about being careful to wash her hands.

But she says the epidemic is definitely creating a strain on both workers and patients. “I think it’s overwhelming for a lot of them,” she said. “I can tell on the staff and patients’ faces, they are overwhelmed.”

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