It’s early afternoon on a Thursday when Donna Portscher walks through the doors at a DaVita dialysis center in north Georgia. It is a familiar setting — the faces, the clean smell of a medical center and the sound of dialysis machines in the background. She pays visits to dialysis centers like this one countless times a year as an employee of DaVita, one of the largest providers of kidney care in the U.S. But this time is different. She’ll be treating her first patient in more than eight years — he’s recently tested positive for COVID-19.
“I wasn’t nervous because this patient was COVID-19 positive,” says Portscher. “I was nervous because for the first time in many years I was working shoulder to shoulder with one of our nursing teams to deliver life-sustaining care that would keep him as strong as possible to fight the virus.”
Before joining DaVita as a clinical services manager where Portscher enjoyed facilitating new hire trainings, she worked as a registered nurse. Even as she made the change to supporting clinical teammates from a business office instead of a dialysis center, her passion for direct patient care never left. When the first dialysis patient in her area was hospitalized due to COVID-19, Donna heard the call for volunteers willing to provide care to patients with COVID, returning to the outpatient setting. “I said yes because I knew I could help,” she shared.
Dialysis nurses must receive special training and education to care for the complex needs of patients with kidney disease. Portscher spent the week following the initial call attending training sessions, completing the required courses, and demonstrating the skills necessary to rejoin her clinical teammates. Finally, the day came that the patient was healthy enough to be discharged from the hospital and return to an outpatient treatment center.
“Once I met the patient I would be treating, I was overwhelmed with hope,” she says. “He looked strong and I knew this was the start of his recovery.”
COVID-19 poses a hazard to the health of over 37 million patients with kidney disease in the U.S. They are more often immunocompromised compared to the general population. In general, they are some of the sickest and most medically complex patients in the health care system.
Maintaining the ability to treat kidney disease patients in an outpatient setting is a twofold benefit: It helps limit their exposure to the virus and it limits the potential hazard of over-burdening hospitals that have recently seen an influx of COVID-19 patients. For kidney disease patients recovering from COVID-19, regular dialysis treatments help support overall health and reduce the risk that they will be rehospitalized for kidney-related complications.
“I know that the work I’m doing now is helping my community,” says Portscher. “Without us, our hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients.”
Donna will continue caring for patients over the coming weeks until the number of COVID-19 positive patients levels off. Since the onset of the virus, over a thousand clinicians have rejoined the heroic care teams at DaVita centers nationwide.
“I felt a tremendous sense of duty to return to patient care during this crisis,” she says. “At DaVita we have a saying, we ‘Give Life.’ That strikes me now more than ever.”