UPMC Bedford Memorial hospital ending dialysis services

Decision comes shortly after facility announced closure of maternity ward

UPMC Bedford Memorial hospital is set to end dialysis services for inpatients this month, a representative said, marking a second service elimination after hospital officials announced the coming closure of its maternity ward.

Starting Oct. 29, inpatients will no longer get dialysis, UPMC Public Relations Senior Director Susan Manko said. The hospital does not offer outpatient dialysis — a process by which toxins are removed from the blood — but has offered it for patients receiving surgery or acute care.

It is not clear how many patients would be affected by the shift. Most people who need dialysis receive it periodically at specialized centers, but the end of inpatient dialysis means some people with serious or acute illnesses will have to be hospitalized in other cities.

“Because inpatients cannot leave the hospital to receive dialysis in an outpatient setting, patients requiring acute hospitalization who also need dialysis will be admitted to another hospital where inpatient dialysis along with appropriate acute care services are provided,” Manko said in an email.

The change comes amid concerns that other hospital services in the county could be eliminated or moved elsewhere, nearly two decades after UPMC acquired the former Memorial Hospital of Bedford County.

Officials have been concerned since at least last month, when UPMC Bedford representatives announced plans to end child deliveries effective Dec. 1. The hospital chain argued that low delivery — less than one per day on average — made it difficult to justify a department in Bedford when UPMC Altoona and other facilities are located nearby.

Bedford County Commissioners Chairman Josh Lang said officials have met with UPMC leaders to stress the hospital’s importance, especially in a county with an aging population and the desire to retain younger workers.

“When we met with (UPMC officials), they said there’s no talk of rolling back any services. Certainly we are concerned that this is the start of other services that might be rolled back in the future,” Lang said. “In a rural community, when women have to travel a distance to the hospital, it’s one of those things that we are 100 percent against.”

UPMC representatives have pushed back on the idea that the hospital is cutting more services. In talking points distributed to county leaders, hospital officials stressed their millions of dollars in capital investments and charity work in the last few years.

The chain has invested $9 million at Bedford in the last five years, including on a new ultrasound room, a renovated electrical system and refurbished walk-in centers separate from the main hospital, the talking points stated.

When they announced plans to end childbirths at UPMC Bedford, representatives noted that some related maternity services would continue. But ongoing hospital consolidation has spurred concerns in rural areas, where small local hospitals gradually have been absorbed by larger chains.

“They have mentioned that this is a way to regionalize efforts, to centralize services,” Lang said. “We are afraid other services might go out of the area in the future.”

With a series of elder-care homes and communities growing around Bedford, hospital services like dialysis remain important, he said. At the same time, child delivery is a draw for younger couples and professionals looking to start families in the region.

“We talk about retaining youth and bringing in jobs,” Lang said. “It’s something that we, as a community, have to fight against, let them know where we stand.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.