Kidney center reopens months after Frances

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 11:34 p.m.
TRENTON - Debbie Ellis and her staff were finally able to work here again Monday, four months after Hurricane Frances chased them out of town.
Ellis is a registered nurse and clinic manager of Suwannee Valley Kidney Center. The dialysis center on State Road 26 was closed when sinkholes began opening around it after Frances crossed over Florida in early September. In addition to severing water and sewer service, the sinkholes stressed the brick building's foundation, making the building unstable.
The center serves patients in Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties. During the shutdown, those patients were sent to dialysis centers in Alachua, Gainesville, Hawthorne, Live Oak and Lake City, creating an extreme hardship for several who are elderly, indigent or nondrivers. During a period of high gas prices, some spent up to an hour and 45 minutes driving each way to reach dialysis centers. A few patients said they had to leave their homes as early as 3 or 4 a.m. on their dialysis days.
Dialysis is needed when someone's kidneys are no longer working. During three- to five-hour-long dialysis sessions, toxins are removed from a patient's blood. Without the procedure, the toxins build up to a level that can be fatal.
On Monday morning, the center reopened in a renovated portable building a few blocks from its permanent home. Although the temporary center has only eight chairs instead of the 24 in the permanent center, some patients were grateful to be able to receive dialysis closer to home.
"I am so happy that they could open back up," said patient James Chavous from Dixie County.
During the closure, his wife spent twice as long driving him to dialysis appointments.
"It only takes a half hour to get here, but we were driving for an hour to get to Lake City," he said.
Ellis and her staff said they hope the original dialysis center, which is owned by Fresnius Medical Care of Massachusetts, will be back in service by April. The brick building's foundation had been stabilized and additional work on it is expected to begin within a few weeks.
"We are working three shifts a day Monday through Saturday, but only 46 of our 63 patients could be accommodated here so we still have people who must travel to Gainesville three times a week," Ellis said. "A lot of people don't realize that there are many people still recovering from the hurricanes. We still have patients who are not back in their own homes because of the storms."

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