Center advances kidney care

By Melissa Hirschl

Kidneys—no, we don’t spend much time thinking about them. But when they fail, our lives can be turned topsy turvy and we find ourselves following a life regimen that’s controlled by the unrelenting need for dialysis.

That’s where specially designed, specially staffed treatment centers have come into being.

Now, one of the nation’s newest, most state-of-the-art dialysis programs is about to appear on the Valley medical scene.

In March, the physician-owned and managed Southwest Kidney Institute is due to relocate its expanded headquarters to Warner Century Plaza, an upscale UTAZ development on Warner Road just west of the Price Freeway.

The striking, 22,000-square-foot, decorative-stone-faced building will house 24 dialysis stations, along with administrative space, physician offices and a peritoneal dialysis training center, where nurses will train patients to manage their care at home.

These are only some of the features that planners say will set the new center apart from others.

Unfortunately, say the experts, dialysis centers frequently have the image of being uncomfortable, clinical, boring and distasteful in general.

Planners of the locally based kidney institute, developed initially in 2001, are striving to change those images.

“We believe ours is the best,” says CEO Jeff Weintraub, “because we’re owned by physicians and accountable only to physicians and patients, not to Wall Street and analysts.”

Southwest, says Weintraub, prides itself on a more holistic continuum-of-care philosophy that addresses psychological and social issues as well as medical ones.

To meet that end, the institute provides social workers, nurse practitioners and dieticians in doctors’ offices where each patient’s individual needs can be addressed, Weintraub says.

“Our overall program,” says Weintraub, “allows doctors to evaluate patients early, put them on a program that can slow the progression of kidney disease, and transition them into end-stage renal disease treatment without hospitalization when it becomes necessary.

It will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, however.

“At our new center,” Weintraub says, “we will provide dialysis options to our patients; they can have home-dialysis, transplants, hemodialysis (done at the center) or no dialysis at all.”

In addition, he says, patients will have access to drugs not widely available, through the center’s research department.

Individualized treatment

The complexities inherent in tailoring treatment for each individual patient have been incorporated into the center’s planning, according to Weintraub.

However, a typical patient at the modernistic center can expect to visit three times a week, get weighed, have vital signs taken and undergo dialysis.

The intricate dialysis process involves pumping blood through a filtered tube and returning it through another into the body to remove toxins and impurities. A remarkable 800 milliliters of water per minute are pumped through the body to aid in filtration, based on a high-tech system that has been used for years in Europe but is relatively new to the United States, according to Weintraub.

Barbara Fritz, contracts administrator for the center, says the water is critical to the treatment process.

“We pride ourselves on providing the purest water available at any facility in the state, she says. “We heat-disinfect it daily so that patients stay healthy. We’re the only ones in Arizona that do this, and sixth in the nation.”

In the new venue, patients will receive treatment from the most up-to-date equipment while relaxing in reclining chairs they choose themselves.

Another comfort feature is that they will have the luxury of sipping coffee or tea, slipping on headsets and watching programming on their own individual 10-inch flat TV screens. In the near future, Fritz says, patients will even be able to connect to the Internet.

Community mission

While treatment is indeed a vital focus, Weintraub says the institute’s mission emphasizes bringing attention to the disease early.

“Most people who have kidney problems don’t realize it until they are at the emergency room. To combat this scenario, we start with community awareness. We talk to people in the community, namely, managed care plans and managed care physicians.

“We also talk to nurses and anyone who is likely to see these patients. We inform them about what to look for and we also tell them about the importance of sending them to a nephrologist (kidney specialist) to have us start working with them immediately.”

In addition to being high tech, say the experts, starting from scratch is an attribute that will certainly give this new center a distinctive edge.