Hints of a possible solution for dialysis patients

Throughout the drama of the closing of Grady Memorial Hospital’s dialysis unit, one question has loomed: What will happen to the 50 patients when funding for their care runs out?

Will they be on the street? Will they die?

Behind the scenes, some private providers of dialysis care are quietly hinting that they might be willing to share the burden of handling these 50 patients, most of whom are low-income illegal immigrants.

Those providers include Emory Healthcare, which is opening three new dialysis clinics in metro Atlanta, as well as DaVita, which has about two dozen centers around metro Atlanta.

But no company has stepped forward and said it will care for the patients.

Grady closed its outpatient dialysis clinic in October. It offered about 50 of the patients three months of free care at private clinics operated by Fresenius.

When the deadline for the end of that care arrived Jan. 3, Grady offered another month of care, which ends Feb. 3. After that, any care for these patients would be considered on a case-by-case basis, Grady said.

"This requires a community solution, and we would do our fair share," said Dr. Jeff Sands, Emory's renal division director.

Brad Chase, a spokesman for DaVita, pointed out that DaVita already provides free care for about 25 illegal immigrants a year in metro Atlanta. That equals about 3,000 treatments worth several hundred thousand dollars, he said.

"We believe people should share the burden," he said. "We believe we are members of the community."

He said it is premature to say whether DaVita would help serve some of the Grady patients, because they are still receiving care.

"When we get asked, we'll have a discussion," he said.

Calls to Fresenius and Dialysis Clinic Inc., another dialysis provider in metro Atlanta, were not returned.