The hospital renovated the inside of the former Berkshire Hematology practice.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Edith King doesn't feel like the hours she spends receiving renal dialysis is a problem.
"This is the greatest place you can come to if you've got kidney problems. I feel like I don't have a kidney problem. I feel like I am just sitting here, visiting with friends, and having a good time. It is just a great place," King said on Friday as she awaited her doctors to start another procedure.
King is one of the 82 patients being served out of the newly opened renal dialysis center on Conte Drive. Berkshire Medical Center capped off a project to open three renal dialysis centers throughout the county in recent years, bringing the service closer to home.
"First we started in south county, in 2009 that opened, added north county this last year. We renovated south county to expand it and built this new facility this year," said David Henner, medical director of the BMC dialysis centers.
The health system invested $6 million in the project to open three new centers.
In Pittsfield, the center took over space vacated by Berkshire Hematology Oncology. When Berkshire Hematology Oncology became a member of the hospital's practice group, BMC took over the building off of Dan Fox Drive. And for years, the hospital wasn't sure what it was going to do with it.
At the same time, the hospital had been planning out how to move its renal dialysis from the sixth floor of the medical arts building on the hospital's main campus to multiple locations to serve patients from all over the county.
"The problem with where we were is that it is a nice facility but as you can imagine the parking around the hospital is difficult. It wasn't very convenient for them to find a parking spot, coming in and out there is a lot of traffic," Henner said.
The Conte Drive building was ultimately fully gutted, the inside rebuilt, and an addition of 1,000 square feet was added. It joins one in Great Barrington and one in North Adams. The three centers make it easier for patients to receive the care.
"This marks the completion of a multi-year, $6 million, complicated project to provide state of the art facilities in each region of the county in order to ensure convenient access to this essential service that our patients and their families depend on," said CEO David Phelps, in a statement.
"It is unusual for a hospital, or in fact any provider to organize the service this way. Most hospitals have exited the business because the reimbursement available barely covers the cost of providing care and this is a very capital intensive service. As a result, in almost all areas of the state, this service is typically provided by large for-profit companies that often staff differently than we do, using fewer nursing hours for example, and in one centralized location for that region."
Henner said most hospitals have been moving away from providing the service and shuffling it off to for-profit companies. But, Henner said statistics show that the procedures being done by a hospital system results in better outcomes.
"When you actually compare how patients do at a not-for-profit hospital unit like ours compared to for-profit centers that are popping up all over the place, the outcomes are much better in a hospital-based one. Survival rates are better, hospitalization rates are better, patients get more comfort," Henner said.
Henner said the not-for-profit centers have more nurses per patients and provide more comfort items, such as blankets. The treatments take four hours and are done three times a week, taking up nearly all of a person's day when travel and set up time are included.
"This is life support for patients. It is similar to someone who couldn't breathe and needs to be on a breathing machine in the intensive care to keep them alive. This is replacing the kidneys, the vital organs which aren't working. This is keeping patients alive," Henner said.
David Henner said most hospitals are not providing the service.
Director of Media Relations Michael Leary added that the aging population of Berkshire County has created a higher demand here than in other places across the state. Instead of shying away from it like other hospitals, BMC saw it as a way to invest in providing a community need.
"We are in a unique market. We have an aging demographic. We have a greater need for this service than other parts of the state. And this health system is always committed to providing care close to home," Leary said.
The new facility is much closer to Sandra Jordon, who has been receiving treatments for more than a decade. She said when she first went the new site, she couldn't believe it.
"I just feel like we are so fortunate to have this center. It is beautiful. Our nurses and techs and all of the staff, we get treated wonderfully," Jordan said. "I've been here for over 10 years and I don't have one complaint. It is like a second family."
The center is already serving 84 patients in the facility but also provides training and equipment for those who do peritoneal dialysis at home. The center opened on Jan. 8.
"If anyone asks me for an example of what makes Berkshire Health Systems different, this service is a prime example. Only a strong health system with a focus on the community it serves will be able to make such a patient-focused service a reality for the most dependent members of our community," Phelps said.
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