October 27, 2023
Organ Procurement: What Health Care Leaders Need to Know Today
On September 22nd, President Biden signed into law H.R. 2544, the Securing the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Act. This law improves organ transplant policy by allowing multiple contractors to manage the Organ Procurement Transplant Network (OPTN), which has been managed by a single contractor for nearly four decades. The law was the result of multiple Congressional hearings and media articles highlighting the failures of the system, including the mismanagement of organs leading to patient deaths. The law will enable multiple organizations to manage the technology, resource allocation and leadership aspects of organ procurement. This course of action will not only safeguard the organ transplantation process but will enhance its mission and purpose.
Why Such Urgency?
The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is a private, non-profit organization that serves as the nation’s only organ transplant system. Under contract with the federal government, UNOS manages the organ transplant and donation process, as well as the waiting list, matching donors to recipients. A 2020 Senate Finance Committee investigation found significant flaws in UNOS’ system, prompting an urgent demand for reform. Claims of mismanagement (e.g., organs lost in commercial flights), waste, unsafe practices, and lack of accountability plagued the organization, prompting advocacy groups, organ procurement organizations, and members of Congress to seek changes. As of October 24th, 113,945 people are desperately waiting for that life-saving call. Unfortunately, 22 people on average die every day waiting, while mismanaged organs are discarded. On July 27th, bipartisanship prevailed with the Senate passage of H.R. 2544, which seeks to solve this public health crisis.
How H.R. 2544 Impacts Public Health and Our Communities
For the first time, competitive bidding will be allowed for multiple contracts to manage the OPTN. This will allow contractors with expertise in different areas like technology to improve the infrastructure of our national transplant system. As an example, while individuals can currently track their Amazon and food deliveries, the current system managed by UNOS didn’t have an efficient way to track the location of organs in transit. The law also aims to ensure that all Americans, regardless of socioeconomics, race, or geographical location, will be served with compassion, dignity, and respect through the organ donation process. The enhanced efficiency of this system will restore hope in the promise and practice of organ transplantation.
Efforts to reduce the national wait times for organs mean our communities’ needs are a bipartisan priority. National average wait times for organs:
- Kidney: 5 years
- Liver: 11 months
- Heart: 4 months
- Lung: 4 months
Interesting Facts: One out of every four kidneys donated are ultimately discarded. One in three kidney failure patients in the U.S. are Black/African-American; they are more at risk for kidney failure than any other race and face historically longer wait times for kidney transplants due to outdated testing. As our nation sees a sharp increase in organ transplantations, it requires an even greater environment of efficiency, ethics, quality and safety than ever before.
AHPA extends our gratitude to Tequila “Tee” Nelson, guest author of this article. Tee is a respiratory supervisor and a student in the Master of Healthcare Administration program at Loma Linda University.