Success Stories: Rockford Nephrology Associates

For two decades this Rockford-based clinic has sought to provide top-notch care for patients of any health system. In its new Sycamore location the team continues to build on its hallmark approach, including an emphasis on patient education.

Four nephrologists came together to start Rockford Nephrology Associates (RNA) after seeing a specific need not being fulfilled. Dr. John Maynard, Dr. Charles Sweeney, Dr. Krishna Sankaran and Dr. James Stim had all worked at Rockford Clinic and had one goal in common: helping people to manage their kidney disease. In the early 2000s, the physicians took their mission to a new level as they broke away from the health system to service patients across the entire region. 

“Rockford Health System had historically been the only hospital in town that would provide dialysis to kidney patients,” says Holly Curry, practice manager at RNA. “Our practice started really branching off at the end of the ’90s and early 2000s. That is why we decided to be available to service everyone.”

Over the past 20 years, the practice has grown to five clinics serving nine counties in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, with the latest location now established in Sycamore. The practice’s 10 board-certified nephrologists all work exclusively in their field and serve patients at 10 area hospitals. The main office is located at 612 Roxbury Road in Rockford.

The new Sycamore location, at 2127 Midland Ct., Ste. 102, is currently serving patients on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, though Curry says hours may expand in the near future. This clinic, like those in Dixon, Rochelle and Beloit, offers new consultations for kidney disease, as well as related conditions including high blood pressure and electrolyte abnormalities. 

“We are looking to introduce education classes there as well in 2021,” says Curry. “We’ve got a nice-sized room to use as a classroom for classes in that region around once a month and on a recurring schedule.”

Dr. Syed Ahmed and Dr. Bindu Pavithran see patients in Sycamore. These physicians also serve as the medical directors of the Davita Timber Creek (DeKalb), Crimson Ridge (Rockford) and Sycamore Dialysis units.

“I believe the edge we have in the Sycamore area is that we are very quality invested,” says Curry. “We feel that education and advanced planning for disease progression are key for patients to be able to make good decisions for themselves.”

Dr. Bindu Pavithran (above) sees patients at the new Rockford Nephrology Associates satellite location in Sycamore.

Education plays an important role in helping those with kidney disease to manage their conditions. That’s why RNA provides a comprehensive program to help patients stay up to date. Seminars help patients to learn what their treatment options look like, while the RNA nurse navigators help patients who are at the later stages of disease. The goal, says Curry, is to help patients to fully prepare for their treatment program. 

Patients can also take advantage of advanced education options, with choices like a vessel map showing the vessels in a person’s arms so they’ll know where a permanent dialysis access might go. For those navigating a kidney transplant, nurses can provide guidance on scheduling transplant evaluations, as well as home assessments to see if a patient has the right support system for in-home dialysis procedures. 

At RNA’s Rockford location, patients visiting the Access Center can get procedures to keep their dialysis accesses working well, insertion of hemodialysis and home dialysis catheters, and procedures for peripheral arterial disease. Research has linked peripheral arterial disease and kidney disease as risk factors for each other.

“There’s a strong correlation of issues that come up when there are blockages in the arteries for people who have kidney disease as well as progression of kidney disease,” explains Curry. “We’re introducing angiograms and procedures to help clear that, especially in the lower extremities, and that really strengthens heart function and cardiac output.” 

Additionally, RNA is now offering anemia management. 

“We give injections to those who have kidney disease and are also anemic, to try to prevent them from needing blood transfusions,” says Curry. “Every time someone gets a blood transfusion, it potentially alters their antibodies and their match for a possible donation if they are training for kidney transplants.”

For those experiencing the later stages of kidney disease, RNA helps with chronic care management. Such patients may see their doctor every one to three months, Curry says, so it’s essential for doctor and patient to track the minute-by-minute changes that occur within disease progression. Similarly, RNA’s post-hospitalization program helps those who’ve just been released from the hospital to ensure they won’t need to be re-admitted.

“We generate reports on a daily basis to see who’s been discharged from the hospital and who is currently admitted to the hospital,” says Curry. “We can really keep an eye on what’s happening with them for the purpose of their follow-up. Or, we’ll know if something happened while they were in the hospital that the navigator needs to be aware of, or if they had to start dialysis when they were in the hospital.”

In their constant search to provide top-notch care, RNA’s leaders plan to introduce several new measures in the coming year, all focused around the patient. New patient activation and education programs, Curry says, can help to empower patients and better involve them in their own care. Depression screenings, too, can help patients to better understand their illness, she adds.

Education remains a foundation at RNA. Since starting there in 1995 as a case manager, Curry has seen the company support and teach not just patients but many medical students and primary physicians, as well. It’s just one more signal of RNA’s commitment to care. 

“They are just so invested in every aspect of those who touch the kidney populations including the patients,” says Curry. “We have been so invested in the community for such a long time. Because of our investment in the quality of care that we provide to our patients, we’re really looking at joining with other like-minded nephrologists to have a voice for kidney patients across the country.”