Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), part of UNI affiliate SEIU, and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) filed a complaint yesterday with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services alleging widespread health and civil rights violations at kidney dialysis centres in California. These centres are operated by companies like Fresenius, DaVita and others.
The complaint, submitted to the department’s Office for Civil Rights, details how the dialysis providers disproportionately subjected Latino and Asian American patients to unsafe and potentially lethal dialysis treatment at a rate approximately 50 per cent higher than that of their white counterparts.
Dialysis is a life-sustaining treatment for over half of a million U.S. patients suffering from End-Stage Renal Disease, and it is the only alternative to kidney transplantation. In California, over 65,000 patients receive dialysis.
The speed at which dialysis is provided is known as the ultrafiltration rate. Data from the providers obtained by SEIU-UHW and NHeLP shows that patients of colour a received a faster ultrafiltration rate that white patients. A faster rate is 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 dialysis 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 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.
“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.
Having a long track record of advocating for better quality of care, UNI Global Union supports this effort to protect California dialysis patients.
“Unions are essential to improving care quality for all patients. This complaint is just another example of unions like SEIU-UHW being a necessary watchdog to hold healthcare companies accountable and protect patients’ lives. It also further shows how important it is for Fresenius to work with unions in California and beyond to ensure that the best care is given to every patient consistent with the company’s code of conduct,” said Christy Hoffman, UNI Global Union’s General Secretary.