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News

Next phase of COIIN underway

As of October 1, the COIIN (Collaborative Innovation and Improvement Network) project transitioned from the first group of participating transplant centers to the second cohort.  The new group of participants will refine and build upon approaches developed during the initial pilot phase.

At a kickoff meeting held October 3-4 in Chicago, participants in the second cohort were briefed on insights and strategies developed during the initial phase and encouraged to continue to assess and improve upon them.

Each pilot hospital will create and test improvement aims during successive rapid improvement cycles and can share lessons learned with other study participants on an interactive, virtual learning site.   All participants from the first cohort will continue to have access to data in the virtual learning site and can continue to communicate and collaborate with one another.  Hospitals can also monitor their improvement in key measures including outcomes, processes, relationships, and structures.

Another key aim of the COIIN project is testing potential improvements to the program performance review process. During the study, participants will be exempt from the traditional review of patient and kidney graft survival performed by the OPTN Membership and Professional Standards Committee (MPSC). They will participate in an alternative, collaborative quality improvement framework to drive improvements in organ offer and acceptance, waitlist management, and care coordination. 

The new evaluation phase will continue into June 2018. In August 2018, the COIIN Advisory Council and staff will sponsor a learning congress in Dallas to share approaches and perspectives learned from the pilot and evaluation phases.

Board of Directors releases University Hospitals of Cleveland from probation

At a meeting by teleconference October 3, 2017, the OPTN/UNOS Board of Directors restored full member privileges for University Hospitals of Cleveland, a transplant center in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Board had placed the hospital on probation in June 2016, after peer review of low transplant volume and early-term recipient deaths at its heart transplant program revealed concerns with the program’s quality management protocols. The hospital has since instituted actions that successfully address the previous concerns.

United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) serves as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Division of Transplantation. The OPTN brings together medical professionals, transplant recipients and donor families to develop national organ transplantation policy.

 

Hurricane Preparedness

The UNOS Organ Center is actively supporting the transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations in the areas being impacted by current catastrophic conditions. We are assisting members as needed with organ placement or management of key donor or candidate data, in order to provide continuity of essential services.

In case of a short-term disruption of activity (a week or less), your transplant program is your best contact for information regarding their facility status, appointment scheduling, and availability of critical services.

Patients who need information or assistance in the event of a long-term disruption, such as a need to relocate to another transplant program can contact UNOS’ toll-free Patient Services line, (888) 894-6361. It is normally staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday.

In Memoriam – Gene A. Pierce

Gene Pierce, UNOS founder

United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) honors the life and legacy of Gene Pierce, UNOS’ founder and original executive director, who has passed away at the age of 87.

“Gene Pierce’s vision and dedication created UNOS as a truly unique entity,” said UNOS CEO Brian Shepard. “He helped bring the transplant community together at a critical moment in time to establish the national transplant network that exists today.”

Pierce, a graduate of Randolph-Macon College, began his transplant career in 1964 as a surgical administrator at the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU Health). Inspired by Dr. David Hume, the hospital’s pioneering transplant surgeon, Pierce became involved in efforts to preserve donated organs longer, transport them over greater distances and ultimately share them among transplant hospitals if they could not be transplanted locally.

In 1975, Pierce became executive director of the newly formed South-Eastern Organ Procurement Foundation (SEOPF), based in Richmond, Va. Originally an organization of 18 transplant centers in nine states, SEOPF soon began to expand its services to other transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations elsewhere in the country. To facilitate the process of placing organs over distant locations, SEOPF pioneered the use of a computer-based matching system called the United Network for Organ Sharing.

In 1982, Pierce coordinated funding and logistical support to establish a 24/7 call center to help place donated organs. Originally called the SEOPF Kidney Center, it continues as the UNOS Organ Center. The Organ Center recently celebrated its 35th year of uninterrupted service.

As the transplant community grew and as patient treatment and survival improved, the U.S. Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act in 1984 to unite the efforts of all organ procurement organizations and transplant hospitals nationwide. UNOS was founded as a non-profit organization that same year, and Pierce became its executive director. UNOS began serving in 1986 as the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under federal contract and has continued in that capacity ever since.

Pierce was an integral figure in establishing the structure of the OPTN, as well as developing national policies for organ allocation and standards for member institutions. Upon his retirement from UNOS in 1995, the national network had grown to include 60 organ procurement organizations and more than 220 transplant hospitals, performing more than 19,000 transplants per year.

While Pierce had no clinical background, he worked tirelessly to work with donation and transplant professionals and bring them to consensus. “They put aside their individualities to a great extent for the common good – transplanting the best organs in patients to give them the best possible outcome,” he recalled in an interview. “We committed ourselves to doing everything in our power to make their jobs easier and help the patients who could benefit from transplantation.”

His influence extends beyond just the United States. Pierce was a friend and confidant of transplant professionals around the globe. Through hosting overseas visitors and traveling to other countries to share UNOS’ experiences, he was a catalyst for the development of other national transplant networks, particularly those of Japan and South Korea.

“Our father loved United Network for Organ Sharing, and his passion for the organization and for organ transplantation never wavered throughout his entire life,” said his daughter Melanie Pierce McClaskie. “He was humbled by the work he did, and he poured his joy, passion and energy into its creation.”

NOTE: a video interview with Gene Pierce is available on the website of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons here.

Hurricane Harvey

The UNOS Organ Center is actively supporting the transplant hospitals and organ procurement organizations in the areas being impacted by Hurricane Harvey. We are assisting members as needed with organ placement or management of key donor or candidate data, in order to provide continuity of essential services.

In case of a short-term disruption of activity (a week or less), your transplant program is your best contact for information regarding their facility status, appointment scheduling, and availability of critical services.

Patients who need information or assistance in the event of a long-term disruption, such as a need to relocate to another transplant program can contact UNOS’ toll-free Patient Services line, (888) 894-6361. It is normally staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday.

UNOS Organ Center at 35: A vital link with the transplant community

What has been in continual operation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the past 35 years?

The World-Wide Web? Nope, not even 30 years old yet.

The Energizer Bunny? A mere 28.

Amazon.com, Facebook, Bluetooth devices? Not even close.

But since July 1982, the UNOS Organ Center has been working every hour of the day and night to help organ procurement organizations and transplant hospitals make transplants happen. In fact, many transplants would not have been possible without the skill and dedication of the Organ Center staff.

The Organ Center’s history actually predates UNOS as an organization. It was founded by the Southeastern Organ Procurement Foundation (SEOPF) as the Kidney Center. Initial financing came through a grant from the American Kidney Fund.

When UNOS was incorporated in 1984, the Organ Center became one of its most fundamental services. Over time, its role has grown to include four primary responsibilities:

  • Placing organs for transplantation
  • Arranging transportation for organs
  • Maintaining the national transplant waiting list
  • Providing informational and logistical support to the U.S. transplant community

Many of UNOS’ longer-term employees have worked in the Organ Center (sometimes known informally as the “OC”) and have experienced many changes over time. “When I started in the Organ Center, we did not have electronic notification,” said Kim Betancourt, a senior Organ Placement Specialist (OPS). “We had to go down the match and call each center and verbally tell them about the donor. It was very rare that we ever got through an entire match, where today, we get through a match so much quicker. 

“With electronic notification, I feel like I place more organs than I used to,” Betancourt added. “I have also noticed more centers are pumping kidneys and, with that, surgeons are accepting kidneys that may have more cold time.”

Despite the changes, those who are newer to the Organ Center appreciate the continuity and mentorship of their longer-term colleagues. “I am so appreciative that I have been welcomed into such a great community,” said Jennifer Harter. “The more senior OPS’s and even the relatively new ones have really taken me under their wing. It is very apparent that the core values of UNOS are really second nature within the OC. Everyone is willing to lend a hand or answer any question, no matter how simple.”

Organ Center staff have a unique connection with many UNOS members through their interactions at any hour of the day or night. Many form deep bonds with clinicians and staff, even if they’ve never met in person. “You do create relationships, even over the phone,” said Sandy Batts Starr. “When you talk to someone for what seems like 100 times in one day, three days a week, 52 weeks a year, you feel like you know them. We commiserate, joke around with each other, find a minute to make someone’s day when an impossible transportation becomes possible. And now we have social media, so we “see” each other more often than once a year in the holiday photo that is sent out.”

Staff members must sometimes confront tense and difficult situations. They are onsite and available despite conditions caused by weather or widespread power outages. (The Organ Center has a number of power and computer backups, and if needed can relocate quickly to a remote site to continue operations).

They have also faced unexpected challenges as a result of tragic events. Lori Gore was in the Organ Center on September 11, 2001. “Like the rest of the country we were horrified; we called loved ones, and for 30 minutes the phones were silent. And then all hell broke loose – the government grounded all aircraft that were up in the air at the time, so planes with organs were coming down everywhere across the country without recipients lined up where they were landing.

“We were scrambling, running import matches, calling centers, talking with courier services – trying to make sure that even though nothing was where it was supposed to be, nothing more would be lost,” Gore added. Due to the efforts of transplant professionals nationwide, including the vital support of Organ Center staff, no candidate deaths are known to have occurred as a direct result of the flight ban.

Despite the occasional crisis, the usual atmosphere is calm and professional. “While I didn’t expect the Organ Center to be quiet,” said Octavia Goodman, “I did expect it to be more chaotic. I thought the phones would be ringing off the hook and that the OPS’s would be flustered and tense from working in an environment that plays a role on an individual’s quality of life. To my surprise everyone was very calm and managed their cases very efficiently, regardless of what was going on.”

Above all, Organ Center staff feel a keen sense of responsibility and connection to UNOS’ role in donation and transplantation. “There has never been a time when someone asked what I do or where I work that I haven’t been proud to say ‘UNOS,’” said Britt Thompson. “In each of those instances they have commented that they are registered donors and they have a personal story to share of giving or receiving. I can’t imagine going back to a job where I can’t see value in the work of which I am a small part.”

View additional perspectives from organ center staff.