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Dialysis dilemma: With DaVita closing in November, where will local residents go?

Roger Walker will turn 92 next month. He'll soon have to figure out a new place to receive dialysis treatment because DaVita at 3028 North Service Drive will close this autumn. He said he hopes someone will step in and keep the service close to home. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

When Roger Walker finished a day of treatment at DaVita's Red Wing location in early June, he was handed a letter. It stated the Red Wing location would close on Nov. 29, citing financial constraints as the reason.

DaVita "is unprofitable to a degree that can't be corrected," putting an almost 92-year-old Walker in a difficult spot: Where will he go to get his lifesaving treatments?

Two decades ago, Walker had emergency surgery to remove one kidney. Late last year, Walker said he suffered an aneurysm and would have died if he hadn't been airlifted to Rochester Mayo Clinic and had emergency surgery.

At first, Walker received treatment in Rochester, but was transferred to St. Crispin Living Community and he began going to DaVita last December. Walker is back at home with his wife now and goes to DaVita two times a week for three-hour treatments.

DaVita serves over 200,000 dialysis patients in nine countries, according to the company's website.

Being able to stay in town is important to Walker. Commuting between Northfield, Hastings or Rochester for treatment is a challenge, he said. Add on being on a fixed income, the challenges begin to mount for Walker and his family.

"It's just terrible that they want to leave this Red Wing" treatment center, Walker said. "No reason that they should."

Being handed the letter on June 11, Walker described the feeling as being hit on the head with a sledgehammer. Walker and his wife have contacted Red Wing Mayor Sean Dowse and have written letters to President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz.

Walker said people need to know it's a matter of life and death for local patients, urging the city to step in and keep the dialysis center open.

"The mayor, whoever else higher up, city council, they've gotta get on the ball," Walker said. "They've only got five months to do something."

Courtney Culpepper, a communications manager for DaVita, confirmed via email that the Red Wing location will close on Nov. 29 because "the center is financially unsustainable."

One statement provided by Culpepper said: "We notified patients and teammates in early June. In keeping with our commitment to patients, we are working with neighboring dialysis centers and hospitals to find treatment options for each patient, thus minimizing the disruption of care. Additionally, teammates who work at the center have been given several months to consider next steps.Teammates will have the opportunity to transfer to nearby DaVita centers and will be eligible for retention incentives and severance benefits."

DaVita has a location in Hastings, a potential option for someone like Walker.

How will company finances affect other DaVita locations? Culpepper said she "wouldn't have any information to share on that, but we're working to place patients with neighboring dialysis centers including DaVita's Hastings center and nearby locations owned by other providers."

There is no easy answer for Walker. Dialysis is a requirement for him, being told by doctors that he can't go longer than 15 days without treatment.

While he's beaten prostate and skin cancer, overcome two hernias, appendicitis and a smashed heel, Walker is still an active man. He works on his car and does a lot around his home.

The dialysis can take a lot out of him, he said, but he still tries to be as active as possible.

For right now, Walker will continue to be treated at 3028 North Service Drive. He'll also be fighting to keep the location where it's at, hoping another company can step in and save local service.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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