During emergencies, first responders may be the only hope for people escaping a life-threatening situation. Since countless Californians rely on 9-1-1 in their time of need, we must be ready to rush to the scene of an emergency to saves lives.

That ability has been compromised over the last several years by dramatic increases in the number of emergency calls from dialysis clinics. Instead of properly staffing their clinics to reduce the odds of patients collapsing or going into cardiac arrest, the clinic operators have in effect looked to firefighters and emergency medical staff to fill in the gaps. In so doing, the dialysis industry has increasingly put taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing dialysis clinics.

For example, between 2012 and 2016, the Los Angeles County Fire Department saw the volume of 9-1-1 calls from dialysis clinics increase from an average of 20 calls per clinic in 2012 to 31 calls in 2016. That figure was drawn from just 20 of the 169 clinics in the county, and together, those 20 facilities placed 2,457 emergency calls in the five-year period.

This statistic is alarming for a variety of reasons. To begin with, reports from dialysis employees reveal that chronic understaffing is a contributing factor to patient emergencies. As workers are overwhelmed on a daily basis, it makes it difficult to deliver proper patient care. This comes on top of unsanitary conditions being reported in facilities, such as cockroaches, dried blood and mice.

Not only are these conditions endangering the dialysis patients that often receive treatment in the clinics three times a week, but the irresponsible actions of dialysis corporations are also diverting emergency personnel to cases that typically can, and should, be prevented. This puts many Californians at risk of a slower response from often-understaffed fire agencies. 

People with kidney failure often must undergo dialysis treatment to remove their blood, clean it and put it back in their bodies, with each treatment lasting three to four hours. It is unconscionable that dialysis patients are subject to these conditions and so dependent on 9-1-1 as part of their care.

This understaffing by dialysis corporations is dangerous for patients and anyone who may need to call on emergency services. If we are responding to a call at a dialysis clinic due to insufficient staffing, that strains our ability to respond to emergency calls at people’s homes. In addition, the costs of these preventable 9-1-1 calls are being footed by taxpayers.

What makes the situation more appalling is that the two largest dialysis providers in California, DaVita and Fresenius, are raking in huge profits. Combined, they own and operate 72 percent of the dialysis clinics in the state, and they reported $4 billion in profits from their dialysis operations in the United States in 2017.

For that reason, California Professional Firefighters strongly supports Prop. 8, an initiative on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot. It will improve patient care for people with kidney failure, decrease pressure on the 9-1-1 emergency response system and spare taxpayers from picking up the tab for dialysis clinics that fail to invest in adequate staffing.

California’s firefighters believe that Prop. 8 will benefit patients, taxpayers and firefighters alike. Specifically, Prop. 8 would improve care for dialysis patients by pushing dialysis corporations to invest in hiring more staff, buying new medical equipment and improving facilities. 

It’s time that dialysis corporations work to improve care for patients and stop passing the buck to taxpayers.

Jeff Del Bono is an active firefighter and a vice president of California Professional Firefighters.