Support UT-Methodist Transplant Institute Selection of New Organ Procurement Organization.
There is a crisis evolving that affects the lives of every citizen in Memphis and the Mid-South region. It involves our nationally ranked UT-Methodist Transplant Institute. We are taking all possible steps to address this issue. I am writing to inform you of the actions we have and are taking and request your assistance.
Tennessee has had a long-standing sharing agreement for donor organs in the state that is not consistent with federal regulations governing allocation of organs for transplantation in the rest of the country. The United Network of Organ Sharing recently dissolved this sharing agreement with the result being, patients in the Mid-South and Memphis will have access to only 25% of the organs in Tennessee, whereas patients in Nashville and the rest of the state will have access to 75%. This federal decision was appealed all the way to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, but the appeal was denied. As a result, the Tennessee sharing agreement will be dissolved at the end of this year, threatening the lives of Memphians and West Tennesseans and the very existence of the transplant program that serves them.
Our transplant program — the UT-Methodist Transplant Institute in Memphis — performed 260 liver, kidney and pancreas transplants last year and was the fourth-largest liver transplant program in the United States.
The solution to this life-threatening dilemma is simple. Mid-South Transplant Foundation, which is our Memphis-based Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), can merge with Tennessee Donor Services, the Nashville-based OPO. The merger would create a single OPO for Tennessee and restore equal access to organs for patients in West Tennessee, Memphis and the Mid-South. Last year Tennessee Donor Services had 220 organ donors compared to only 62 for Mid-South Transplant Foundation. Without a merger, Memphians will lose first access to those hundreds of donor organs available outside our area.
The Mid-South Transplant Foundation is a not-for-profit company that should be primarily interested in the welfare of this community it has pledged to serve. It is a government contractor providing organs from donors for transplantation and the foundation follows the letter of the law. However, the members of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation board have the opportunity to merge with Tennessee Donor Services and save more lives in Memphis. Tennessee Donor Services is willing to merge and help Memphians. We think the Mid-South Transplant Foundation Board of Directors should do the right thing and explore merger options with Tennessee Donor Services for the good of all in West Tennessee.
The only other option besides merger of the OPOs is for the UT-Methodist Transplant Institute to become part of Tennessee Donor Services. Our Transplant Institute has applied to the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, for a waiver to allow Tennessee Donor Services to be our designated OPO. There is strong support from our city political and community leaders for this application, although support from the community at large is essential. Letters of support for the waiver application for Tennessee Donor Services to be the designated OPO for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare can be submitted through: https://www.methodisthealth.org/articles/help-the-transplant-institute-continue-saving-lives
Send a letter supporting Methodist’s OPO Waiver to the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services:
Jonathan Blum, Deputy Administrator
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Department of Health and Human Services
P.O. Box 8010
Baltimore, MD 21244-1850
While we West Tennesseans are victims of an unintended consequence of federal policy, we must adapt to the current regulations and come together to unify organ allocation in Tennessee for the greater good to save more lives.
Steve J. Schwab, MD