Whitfield Regional adds nephrology, dialysis to services

(Editor’s Note: This the first in a four-part series focusing on new services at Whitfield Regional Hospital.)

The addition of a 24/7 telehealth nephrologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham enables Whitfield Regional Hospital to now treat kidney patients rather than transferring them out.

Patients are assessed by the nephrologist, who is accompanied by an onsite hospitalist or nurse practitioner, and will have their status followed by the nephrologist daily during their stay.

Dr. Eric Wallace

The new nephrology care also includes dialysis allowing Whitfield Regional to accept patients who are on a regular dialysis schedule and treat any condition, related or unrelated. Until the two dialysis machine were implemented in July, patients who undergo dialysis would be transferred to another hospital, whether admittance to the hospital was related to a renal disease or not.

“They don’t come to us because they need dialysis,” WRH CEO Doug Brewer said, “There could be a whole host of reasons why they need to be an inpatient. It just so happens that because they also have to have dialysis at least three times a week, you have to be able to provide the service or you can’t treat them.”

Up to four patients can use the dialysis machines on a rotating schedule of one four-hour session every other day. Each patient is supervised by a dialysis-certified telehealth nurse and a dialysis-certified technician.

The machines are also available for emergency dialysis treatments if an individual misses an appointment and for temporary treatments while admitted to the hospital as dialysis is also used for other treatments such as purifying blood after acute poisoning or treating kidney infections.

While patients are able to save time and money by not traveling to another location in order to access dialysis treatments while admitted to a hospital, Dr. Eric Wallace, who is the Medical Director of UAB eMedicine and a nephrologist, also said proximity to family and friends provides a support system for patients adjusting to dialysis treatment being a new requirement for their chronic illnesses.

“It’s tough psychologically and physically. People need to have their family members close to them when that happens,” Wallace said.

Sanderling Renal Services provides the machines and a certified dialysis technician to run the treatment. The dialysis machines used at the hospital are NxStage home hemodialysis machines, which leads to a gentler treatment and helps prevent low blood pressure during the session than a patient may experience with a standard outpatient hemodialysis machine.

Wallace said the addition of nephrology and dialysis at Whitfield Regional serves to continue to broaden the care that the hospital provides.

“Because of the paucity of hospitals in the region, we have to get as many services as possible to [the hospital] so it can be a one-stop shop for virtually any problem that patients would have,” he said. “This is about adding one more branch to the tree of all the services,” he said.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, August 14 issue of the Demopolis Times.)