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Leslie Gregory of Sellwood is a physician assistant with more than 20 years of experience, a U.S. Navy veteran, a mother of two and a founder of the Right To Health.

GREGORYWhen America took unprecedented steps to combat the coronavirus pandemic, people across the nation watched as the most vulnerable groups of patients struggled to get by. Patients with underlying health conditions felt the harshest blow from the pandemic, and few in Oregon have been hit as hard as dialysis patients.

According to numbers released earlier this year, 20 percent of the Oregonians who died due to COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic had kidney disease.

Especially hard hit were our communities of color, affected not only by kidney disease but systemic health disparities in the setting of Oregon's racist past and recent declaration of racism as a public health crisis. Now we need to ensure that we are taking the right steps to improve care for all patients and protect them not just from this virus, but from all health disparities.

That is why it's encouraging to see Oregon's lawmakers stepping up to tackle this issue. Earlier this year, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the BETTER Kidney Care Act, a bipartisan bill which would help to improve care for dialysis patients, of fronts, most notably through treatment plan coordination.

For a lot of dialysis patients, the responsibility of keeping track of the treatments they receive and the medications they take falls on their shoulders. It's a patient's job to ensure every one of their care providers has the information they need about what all of their other providers are doing to treat them. The problem, however, is that in addition to a nephrologist and a primary care physician, many dialysis patients need to see several other doctors for additional health problems like diabetes or heart disease.

The BETTER Kidney Care Act would establish a system that enables all care providers to communicate more effectively with each other about the treatments they administer and the medications they prescribe, taking that burden off of patients. It would create a more streamlined environment that ensures patients spend less time in waiting rooms and are paying less for their healthcare overall. In some cases, it can even help prevent the different treatments they receive from interfering with each other and causing more harm than good.

The bill's benefits go beyond improved coordination by also including provisions to provide transportation services to a patient's dialysis clinic. Given that many patients can't get to their clinic for treatment on their own and don't have any other options, those services will help to guarantee they can keep up with their treatments and ultimately have better health outcomes from their care.

This legislation is absolutely essential, and I'm happy to see one of our state's own members of Congress spearheading the efforts to pass it. Now, we need Congressman Blumenauer's fellow lawmakers in Washington to stand alongside him to pass the BETTER Kidney Care Act and provide dialysis patients with the level of care they deserve.

If the past year has shown us anything, it is that our nation still has a long way to go in order to guarantee that our most vulnerable patients have access to the care they need. Dialysis patients are one of the most often overlooked groups of those patients, and the BETTER Kidney Care Act provides lawmakers with the perfect opportunity to show that they are committed to protecting people with kidney disease.

Leslie Gregory of Sellwood is a physician assistant with more than 20 years of experience, a U.S. Navy veteran, a mother of two and a founder of the Right To Health, a group working to alleviate the disparities that come with racial injustice and economic inequality.

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