Southwest Transplant Alliance is one of just 58 federally designated nonprofits that connect organ donors and those awaiting a transplant, meeting and exceeding the Trump administration’s new regulations to increase organ transplants and reduce costs related to kidney disease.
“We announced proposals that have the potential to transform the lives of thousands of Americans in need of organ transplants.” U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said in a statement. “CMS is proposing to reform how we measure the work of organ procurement organizations by holding them accountable to objective, consistent criteria. These reforms have the potential to give tens of thousands of Americans a chance at a better, longer healthier life.”
STA President and CEO Patti Niles met with Trump administration leaders to help develop the new guidelines for organ procurement organizations. “Working shoulder to shoulder with Secretary Azar and providing input on the new guidelines has been a career highlight,” said Niles via release. “As the Trump Administration implements these new performance metrics for OPOs, I’m proud of the standards we have set for ourselves. STA will continue to outpace itself year over year with a commitment to innovation, growth and service to our community. I’m proud that our organization is ready for this change.”
In 2019, STA broke its own record with 428 organ donors, 1,308 transplanted organs, the highest number of lungs, livers and kidneys recovered in a single year, a new lab to provide oversight of donor and recipient organs, award-winning artificial intelligence to help the process be more efficient, and a new recovery center is set to open later this year.
STA has implemented an electronic referral technology to connect STA to hospitals’ electronic medical records, allowing them to reach out if a potential donor has met the clinical benchmarks for organ or tissue donation, improving efficiency for the 113,000 individuals on the organ transplant list.
STA and Christus Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas have been part of a pilot program to improve timely notification to organ procurement teams and it resulted in a 52 percent increase in tissue referrals and a 31% increase in tissue donors. Between January and October 2019, there was a 40 percent increase in organ donor referrals that lead to a doubling of the number of lives saved from transplants from donors at the hospital relative to 2018.
STA is one of the few programs that employ their own surgeon, and the new facility decreases the travel teams that originate in Dallas and have to drive both ways all over Texas to recover the organs.
Organs are able to be recovered from less than 1 percent of all deaths in this country, so having as many people sign up and agree to be donors is necessary to saving more lives. Though emotions are running high after the death of a loved one, Niles says the donation can be a comfort. “It is amazing about the number of families who find it comforting,” she says. “They didn’t have any choice in the horrific accident, but when they have the choice to fulfill a loved-one’s wishes, they feel relieved in that moment.”