Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) has been identified with increased frequency in dialysis populations, but the risk factors for VRE colonization are not well defined in hemodialysis patients. Patients from a university-affiliated outpatient dialysis center had surveillance stool or rectal cultures for VRE during April 1994 and January 1996. The combined cohort of 168 patients was followed-up for all-cause mortality, subsequent hospitalization, and VRE infection. Demographic and risk factor information, including age, gender, race, diabetes, coronary artery disease (CAD), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, were collected on all patients. Sixteen patients had surveillance cultures grow vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium or E faecalis (VREF), and nine additional patients had clinical cultures positive for VREF. The median follow-up time for patients with positive surveillance or clinical cultures for VREF was 421 days versus 423 days for those without VREF. Patients with positive surveillance cultures for VREF had less time on hemodialysis before screening (median = 207 days v 822 days; P < 0.01), and more hospitalization in the year before screening (median = 19 days v 3 days, P < 0.01) compared with those without VREF. Patients with VREF colonization were more likely to develop infection with VREF (25% v 1%, P < 0.01) than those without VREF colonization. However, adjusting for age, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) using Cox-proportional hazards models, the presence of VREF on screening culture was not associated with increased risk of death (RR = 1.1, P = 0.86). Thus after adjusting for other comorbidities, VREF colonization was not associated with increased mortality. Patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on hemodialysis who are hospitalized are more likely to have VREF, but longer duration on hemodialysis was not associated with presence of this organism. This suggests that VRE transmission occurs predominantly in the inpatient setting.