Washington, DC – The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and the National Health Law Program have filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services alleging widespread health and civil rights violations at kidney dialysis centers in California. The complaint details how the dialysis centers, which receive federal funding through Medicaid and Medicare, have disproportionately subjected Latino and Asian American patients to unsafe and potentially lethal dialysis treatment compared to their white counterparts.
Dialysis is a life-sustaining treatment for over half of a million patients in the United States suffering from End-Stage Renal Disease, and it is the only alternative to kidney transplantation. In California, over 65,000 patients receive dialysis, the vast majority of them at one of over 600 outpatient dialysis facilities.
The speed at which dialysis is provided is known as the ultrafiltration rate. Medical research shows that faster ultrafiltration rates are associated with higher mortality risk and other adverse consequences, such as permanent damage to the heart and loss of cognitive function. People subjected to faster ultrafiltration rates may also suffer debilitating short-term symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, cramping, and nausea following treatment.
“For over a decade, medical consensus and the dialysis treatment industry, including one of the dialysis centers named in the complaint, have acknowledged the dangers of increased ultrafiltration rate. However, these dialysis centers routinely provide treatment at ultrafiltration rates that disproportionately subject Latino and Asian American patients to poor health outcomes and risk of fatality,” said Hortencia Armendariz, Healthcare Justice director at SEIU-UHW. “Data submitted by the dialysis centers to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and analyzed by SEIU-UHW reveal that Latino and Asian American patients are exposed to these high-speed treatments at a rate approximately 50% higher than the rate of white patients.”
The serious health problems experienced by Latino and Asian American dialysis patients in California compared to their white counterparts is unjustifiable and, frankly, disgusting.
“The serious health problems experienced by Latino and Asian American dialysis patients in California compared to their white counterparts is unjustifiable and, frankly, disgusting. In our complaint, we allege that the named dialysis centers violate the civil rights of the complainants and thousands of others under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provisions,” said Jane Perkins, Legal Director at the National Health Law Program. “We call on the Office for Civil Rights to require these dialysis centers–and all dialysis centers nationwide– to stop delivering dialysis treatment at dangerous ultrafiltration rates, conduct regular audits to ensure ultrafiltration rates do not exceed safe levels, and take any other steps necessary to ensure safe ultrafiltration rates.”
Read complaint here.
For additional comment from the National Health Law Program, please contact Andy DiAntonio, Director of Communications, at [email protected].