Demonizing DaVita

It’s all across the news here in Denver. John Oliver has taken aim at healthcare giant DaVita and their CEO Kent Thiry. And he makes an apparently strong case. However, it’s not as well informed as it may seem on the surface. I would even be willing to risk going out on a limb to say that the entire piece was built around an opinion and fueled by confirmation bias.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe DaVita has had plenty of issues. Issues that every other large company has. Bad seeds that make bad decisions often driven by their desire to succeed or make more money. Should healthcare providers be held to a higher standard? Yes, they likely should be. Does that mean that the entire company or even their head executive be dragged through the mud as the result of others wrongdoings? No more than any other company.

Ultimately, what is truly brought to light here is a system that is not, as in Canada (or Oliver’s home country) a public entity. The US healthcare system is a jigsaw puzzle of mostly private providers that are no different than any other company in their need to generate revenue in order to pay their employees and provide services to their clients. The only difference for Davita is that their clients are people with serious health conditions that require their services to stay alive. While this is no doubt a significant differentiator, it doesn’t change the fact that Davita is a business. Which is why Thiry speaks about it in similar terms as a company like Taco Bell. Not because, as you insinuate, dialysis is a comparable product to a taco.

So, you may ask why I would care enough to write a post on this matter? Especially taking a potentially controversial or unpopular stand. Well, as a two-time kidney transplant recipients that has spent many years on dialysis across my lifetime thus far, much of that atDaVita clinics, I have a vested interest. I have had the pleasure of knowing manyDaVita employees at all levels throughout my life and can tell you unequivocally, they don’t see DaVita as “just another business”. They take pride in the mission ofDaVita. They believe that, regardless of what they may be doing, from the Patient Care Technicians on the frontline, to the software engineers that build support systems, on to the highest level of the executive offices, they are contributing to making people’s lives better. I’m sure that is not the case of everyone but it is of everyone I have known. And it is shown on so many levels.DaVita teammates participate in dialysis and donor causes nationwide. And while I don’t have numbers, my gut tells me there are moreDaVita participants at events such as the Donor Dash and others fromDaVita than any other employer. Trying to insinuate thatDaVita wants to keep people on dialysis is just inflammatory garbage on par with the political statements flying around that Mr. Oliver takes aim at so regularly.

End-stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patients are educated by the doctor’s that decide they are in need of dialysis about transplantation. If they choose to pursue this, they are then evaluated for suitability of transplantation and, if they are deemed suitable, they are placed on the list to wait, many years on average, for a transplant. If they are not, they are told why and in most cases given a plan to help them get on a path to transplantation. Within the Davita clinics I have treated the staff will regularly revisit these plans and continue to educate the patients on their options. It is absurd to me to think of any dialysis employee for Davita or otherwise knowingly keeping the option of dialysis from a patient.

There were way too many accusations either said or implied in his diatribe to address here. So John, if you would like to learn more about dialysis, the admittedly broken system, or Taco Bell, feel free to ring me up.

All of this said, I do believe that comedians and the media in general has the right to make commentaries as Mr. Oliver did and actually should do so. We the consumers just need to be smart enough to weight the entire story regardless of the source.

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