A Park Rapids health care provider is closing its doors next month.

According to a statement from DaVita Kidney Care, the company’s dialysis clinic at 110 7th St. W. is scheduled to close.

“We recently made a difficult decision to close Park Rapids Dialysis, effective Oct. 25, after exhausting all other options that would keep the doors open,” the statement said. “In the weeks ahead of closing, we are working with each patient to find the best treatment option for their continued care at neighboring dialysis centers.”

DaVita Park Rapids Dialysis opened in 2013. The company cited economic reasons for its closure.

“Our center is financially unsustainable,” it said. “Dialysis providers are underpaid for the care we give to 90 percent of patients, who are covered by government programs that fail to cover the actual cost of dialysis treatment. As a result, a mix of government-funded and privately-paid patients is essential for dialysis clinics to stay afloat. When that mix falls too low for too long, it’s impossible for clinics, like Park Rapids, to stay open.”

Noting that all dialysis providers face the same issue, the company said this “disproportionately harms rural areas like Park Rapids, where patients have fewer options for care” and that DaVita “will continue to push for change” regarding patients’ access to care.

According to the company’s website, DaVita has more than 200,000 dialysis patients, with approximately 55,000 employees in the U.S. and operations in 10 countries.

Causing some problems

“He’s had some problems trying to find a place that the VA will accept,” Jeff Siebert with the Park Rapids Chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) said about one of the chapter’s members, who has been receiving dialysis at DaVita Park Rapids. “It is causing some problems.”

Siebert said that, although there are dialysis programs in Detroit Lakes and Bemidji, the DAV member found that “for him, the closest one would either be Fargo or Cass Lake,” while other programs are “either not approved by the VA, which means they wouldn’t pay, or they’re full.”

Bettina Tritch moved back to Nevis last summer to take care of her father, David Achilles. She said having the clinic in Park Rapids was very helpful. Now they are contemplating round trips to Cass Lake three times a week, in all weather.

“That’s three days where at least half the day is gone,” she said, noting that she won’t be able to drop her dad off and pick him up later. “I’m going to have to revamp my schedule.”

Driving in heavy snow is another worry. “This is my first experience with Minnesota weather in 30-ish years,” said Tritch. “I’m not too keen on it.”

“It’s going to be hard,”agreed Dennis Strange of Emmaville, who has been driving 12 miles twice a week for three years to DaVita Park Rapids Dialysis and now has to make other plans. “I’m not happy over it. I’m sure all the patients aren’t.”

Strange argued that losing its dialysis clinic could have an economic impact on Park Rapids.

“If I have to go to Cass Lake, I’m probably going to buy my gas and groceries in Cass Lake,” he said. “Then, next year, I might be thinking of moving up there, if I’ve got to go there all the time.”

Strange estimated that the closure could lead approximately 30 year-round patients, and perhaps as many summer visitors, to take their business elsewhere.

“When they come up this summer looking for dialysis and there isn’t one, where are they going to go?” he said. “There’s one in Brainerd. Are they all going to move down and buy lots around Brainerd to park their motorhomes or fifth wheels? We could be talking about a lot of people. Is it going to be an impact to the area? Of course!”

Encouraging hints

Joy Johnson, vice president of operations with Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, said Sanford has been working with some of DaVita’s patients to find places to receive dialysis.

“Sanford operates dialysis units in Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, White Earth and several other communities around the area,” she said. “We are working hard to find a location as close to their home as we can and plug them in.”

Johnson added that there is “a national trend, away from these centralized dialysis centers, toward patients being able to dialyze at home.” She said federal incentives are now encouraging patients to try that option.

“The inconvenience of having to go to dialysis three times a week is such that it’s hard for rural communities,” Johnson acknowledged. “A lot of people just end up moving out of a rural community to get better access to dialysis services. So, the concept that they’re promoting today with home dialysis is really a good option for rural communities, if a patient can do it.”

Lindsay Wangberg, director of marketing with Sanford Health, Bemidji Region, confirmed that Sanford has applied within the past few weeks to be a VA center. Approval is pending.

Finally, Johnson had encouraging news about the employees whose jobs at DaVita Park Rapids will be ending.

“We did reach out to all the staff, and if I’m not mistaken, all of them have found other positions,” she said. “There are lots of career opportunities in dialysis. It’s kind of a hard-to-fill job. So, we are always looking for staff. I don’t think finding a position for these folks is going to be a problem.”