Western Maryland Center to continue dialysis

January 17, 1998


Associated Press Writer

The state would continue providing kidney dialysis at the state-owned Western Maryland Center under a plan to increase funding, cut costs and find more patients, the center's director said Friday.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene rejected the option of ending the service and sending patients to a private dialysis center, citing the risks and expenses of transporting people on respirators, director Cynthia Pellegrino said.

If the proposed solution fails to make the service financially self-supporting, it could be contracted out to a private company that would operate the dialysis unit inside the chronic-care center, Pellegrino said.


''We will continue to provide dialysis services at Western Maryland Center. That's our goal and we believe we've got the support to do that,'' she said.

Leaders of the state House and Senate budget committees raised the possibility of a shutdown in a report last year. The prospect worried patients like George E. Jenkins, 72, of Frederick, who has had his blood filtered at Western Maryland Center three times a week for 15 years.

''They know my body, that's the way I feel about it,'' he said as tubes in his arm circulated his blood through a dialysis machine, a 3 1/2-hour process.

The unit treated 24 patients in fiscal 1997, 10 of them outpatients who chose the Western Maryland Center over a private service.

State taxpayers have spent $490,679 since 1993 to pay dialysis costs at the center that were not covered by public and private insurance, according to the legislative report.

The shortfall also reflects a 75 percent decline in patients since 1989, as private dialysis centers opened closer to their homes, according to the report.

Since 1994, the state has channeled insurance reimbursements from inpatient dialysis at Western Maryland Center to the General Fund, further reducing the amount the center receives to offset dialysis expenses.

Under a proposed short-term solution, those reimbursements - estimated at $110,000 - would be returned to the center this year. In addition, the center would receive $121,903 from profits generated by a dialysis unit at the Deer's Head Center, a sister facility in Salisbury that doesn't have competition from private dialysis centers.

The Western Maryland Center also would cut $46,420 from its dialysis budget by eliminating a vacant clerk's position and filling another open position with a contract worker.

Pellegrino said she hopes to add 10 to 15 dialysis outpatients, partly through referrals from a Veterans Administration outpatient clinic that is scheduled to open inside the building this spring.

If the center cannot add enough outpatients to make dialysis self-sufficient by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year, the state could invite private providers to bid on the service, she said.

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