dialysis machine with bed in hospital background

The chief financial officer for global dialysis provider DaVita Health is throwing cold water on the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic is ending anytime soon. 

“When we were sitting here six months ago, we were expecting to feel like COVID was receding into the background,” DaVita Health CFO Joel Ackerman said during a Bank of America virtual healthcare conference Tuesday. “Where we are today, given the omicron surge, we are less confident that omicron is going to be heading into the background sooner rather than later. We don’t have a crystal ball on it.”

1Q loss

Last week, DaVita reported a disappointing first quarter due to continued strong headwinds from the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest provider of facility-based and in-home dialysis treatment reported net income of $162.1 million, or $1.61 per share. That is a 32% drop compared to profits of $237.4 million, or $2.09 per share, during the same period in 2021. 

DaVita CEO Javier Rodriguez attributed the tough quarter to excess patient mortality, missed dialysis treatments due to the omicron variant and higher than normal wage increases.

“It is an interesting time right now, as our country and world are facing a unique portfolio of one-time events all happening at the same time,”  Rodriguez said in a statement.

Staffing adjustment

Ackerman said the pandemic has hit the company’s home dialysis business especially hard because those patients require significant training and education before they can begin treatments on their own. He said many dialysis nurses who conducted in-home training had to be redirected to Davita facilities during the pandemic. 

Still, Ackerman was confident in-home volume will get back on track and help the company contain labor costs. 

“I think the opportunities for growth certainly could help [labor] over the long term, but I don’t think it’s going to happen with a real material impact on the short term,” Ackerman predicted.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is pushing for more in-home dialysis. In January of 2021, it launched the End Stage Renal Disease Treatment Choices Model that would move 30% of dialysis treatment nationwide into the home, which is less costly than facility-based care. CMS estimates about 1% of Medicare beneficiaries have ESRD, but those patients account for approximately 8% of Medicare’s overall costs.