Care closer to home

Published 8:47 pm Monday, February 20, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES -Dialysis patients in Niles can now get treated a little closer to home. Following two years of planning and construction, Lakeland Regional Health System has opened its new dialysis unit in the Longmeadow development on Niles-Buchanan Road.
Prior to the construction of the 8,700 square-foot building, there was a waiting list for dialysis in the Niles area and many patients traveled to St. Joseph or South Bend, Ind. for treatment, Isaacs said. Since the addition of the 25-station facility in Niles, Isaacs said the list has diminished and the center is seeing two to three new patients a week and “absorbing people slowly.”
Walking through the dialysis area at the Niles facility is a tour of the newest and best dialysis technology available. Patients are escorted in and weighted on a scale permanently embedded in the floor, similar to a truck weigh station. Everything in the treatment area seems designed to provide the patients with the most comfortable atmosphere possible. The read-out screens of the dialysis machines are the only source of brightness in the room. Even the fixtures hanging over the nurses station are arranged to cover only the table with a soft touch of light.
Both of the primary physicians on the staff at Niles were previously members of the team at St. Joseph. Dr. Daniel Brash worked at the facility for 10 years and Dr. Oliver Songlingco was there for five.
For now, Lakeland Dialysis - Niles works with two shifts of 16 people on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But, Isaacs said the facility is searching for another on-site physician and preparing to start a third shift that would enable the staff to handle 75 patients a day.
All patients must be diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease to be accepted to the Niles treatment center, Isaacs said. ESRD is the most common condition that causes people to need dialysis. The disease occurs when the kidneys stop functioning properly and can no longer remove impurities built up in the patient's blood stream.
The amount of ESRD cases are at an astounding level in the U.S. and Michigan, Isaacs said.
Isaacs also said obesity is often a factor.
Around 50 percent of all patients requiring dialysis suffer from diabetes and 35 percent have hypertension. The rest of the cases are a result of kidney-specific diseases like lupus, kidney disease and cancer, Isaacs said.
The best way to avoid kidney problems and ultimately dialysis treatment is to catch the problems early on, Isaacs said. Early referrals from general practitioners are vital and medication can help control kidney functions, Isaacs said.
When a disease is not noticed early enough, Isaacs said, doctors attempt to prolong kidney function as long as possible with medications. Lakeland Dialysis currently has around 82 patients nearing kidney failure that will need dialysis treatment in the next 12 to 18 months, Isaacs said. Each case is unique and “so patient specific” because infections and conditions can vary, she added.
For the patients that are infected with Hepatitis B, both dialysis facilities in St. Joe and Niles have isolation stations. Because the virus can live on objects for 21 days, the state requires patients suffering from Hepatitis B to be treated at a separate machine to avoid spreading the virus to the general public, Isaacs said.
The unit is also capable of performing acute dialysis. Isaacs said the treatment is needed when patients are admitted and require treatments for separate problems as well as support for their kidneys.
The new facility should eliminate the number of local patients requiring permanent dialysis stations, Isaacs said. But, one of the greatest benefits of the new facility is its ability to accommodate patients coming to the Niles area from out of town. Isaacs said Lakeland Dialysis - Niles can arrange treatment with other facilities that allows patients to visit for holidays or vacation.
All for the sake of helping everybody feel a little closer to home.