Those who regularly need outpatient kidney dialysis will soon have another option in Elkhart.
Denver-based DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc. is building a 6,000-square-foot dialysis center at 1401 N. Michigan St., just south of Bristol Street, said spokesman Justin Forbis. The company plans to open the facility to patients in May.
Initially the center will only accept patients with commercial health insurance, but will begin accepting patients with Medicare once it becomes Medicare-certified, a process that typically takes about three months, Forbis said.
Forbis said about 60 percent of their patients suffer from either diabetes or high blood pressure, conditions for which rising obesity rates are factors.
The incidence of recognized chronic kidney disease is increasing most rapidly in people age 65 and older, the fastest growing segment of the population, according to the National Institutes of Health.
DaVita, formed in 1999, has more than 2,000 clinics in 48 states and 12 countries, and has added more than 600 centers over the past five years through organic growth and acquisitions. It runs 56 centers in Indiana, and opened one in Mishawaka in February 2013.
The company will bring competition to Waltham, Mass.-based Fresenius Health Care, which is Elkhart County's only free-standing dialysis provider. Fresenius has clinics in Elkhart, Goshen, Mishawaka, South Bend and Plymouth.
"There's nothing wrong with competition," said Fawn Brown, Elkhart area manager for Fresenius. "It just means we need to provide excellent customer service. Our goal is to provide that extraordinary patient experience."
Brown said Fresenius is the nation's biggest dialysis provider, in number of patients, followed by DaVita. She said the two often locate facilities near each other, not unlike pharmacy giants CVS and Walgreens.
Dialysis patients typically receive the procedure, which filters toxins from their blood and is needed for survival, for three to four hours three times a week.
Fresenius in 2009 entered into a joint venture with the physician-owned Nephrology Inc. Elkhart, in which Fresenius operates a 24-station outpatient clinic at 700 Waterbury Drive. Fresenius also has a contract with Elkhart General Hospital to provide dialysis to hospital patients while they're admitted.
Brown said that contract gives Fresenius, which staffs nurses in the hospital, exclusive access to kidney patients in the hospital. She thinks that ability to refer patients to their outpatient dialysis clinic will give Fresenius an advantage over DaVita, at least for the duration of the contract, which she did not specify.
Forbis said the clinic likely will employ six people initially, with another 15 to 20 positions created over the next three to four years. It will have 12 stations, and will offer in-home dialysis as well.
He noted that looming Medicare cuts, proposed to take effect in January, could force the closure of some dialysis centers. But that isn't stopping DaVita from building the Elkhart location.
Forbis said DaVita evaluates each market to determine the need for dialysis centers, based on the local kidney care population.
"Based off our estimates, the need in Elkhart is too great to not have a centrally located dialysis center," he said.