Around the world, individuals with critical health conditions are waiting for organs they need to heal and continue living a healthy, meaningful life through transplantation. While excellent systems are in place to match heroic donor organs to the recipients, red tape and limited inter-organizational collaboration can lead to missed opportunities, resulting in the inability to perform life-changing procedures for various reasons.
I’ve served as the CEO of the Nevada Donor Network since 2012, and during that time, I have seen first-hand where our current system falls short despite its remarkable success. When I joined NDN, the whole company was at risk of shutting down completely. As we worked with all stakeholders to improve our organization, I started to conceptualize how organ procurement and transplantation processes as a whole could be developed further and improved while still leveraging the long standing successes of the ecosystem.
Limiting Factors at Play. In the last seven decades since organ transplantation has been possible, the organ-patient pairing business model has not evolved in a significant way. Allocation and distribution policies of scarce organs by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network and the United Network for Organ Sharing have historically been very effective considering constraints.
As it stands, all transplantation centers are affiliated with a parent hospital, hospital system, or university who compete with each other for organs. These organizations don’t always have the staff and monetary resources needed to sufficiently care for all patients in need of transplants, resulting in the inability of individual transplant centers to satisfy the full demand for services in their community.
In addition, alerts for available organs go out to specific centers and some transplant services may not even be offered locally resulting in a lack of access to those who are unable to relocate for these services. Nevadans, for example, must leave the state for all transplants other than kidneys despite the Nevada Donor Network now being one of the highest performing organ procurement organizations in the world.
This also means that 90% of organs recovered from heroic Nevada donors are transplanted outside the state. Organ transplants must be done on a strict timeline, so moving patients or organs across vast distances creates an even shorter window of opportunity, an emotional toll on the patient, and a heavier financial burden to the system.
Moving Forward Together. Transplantation centers are constantly competing for potential recipients and donated organs. By introducing a more inclusive and cooperative network of resources that connects potential donor organs to those potential recipients, more of the demand could be filled at a lower cost with better outcomes.
Since the beginning of my time as CEO, I’ve been taking a hard look at the shortcomings of the Nevada Donor Network as an organization. Early in our transformation, we realized some of the same opportunities we were missing were also relevant in the organ procurement and transplantation industry. All signs point to the need for a more inclusive and collaborative system with more shared resources to support this cause.
Since 2019, NDN has been working to address these deficiencies of the industry in Nevada through the creation of the Nevada Transplant Institute (NTI). If successful, this independent, nonprofit organization will allow us to leverage NDN’s high performance as an OPO and collect the capacity of Nevada’s entire transplant ecosystem under the umbrella of one coordinated system rather than multiple centers competing.
The NTI in partnership with NDN will serve as the organ donation and transplantation hub for the entire state of Nevada. It will help keep more donated organs in the local community and allow for those awaiting transplantation services to receive care closer to home. The institute will be powered by philanthropy, which will allow individuals to receive care regardless of their insurance plan, income, or socioeconomic status.
The creation of the NTI by NDN will bring hope to Nevadans desperately waiting, while creating thousands of local jobs and optimal outcomes for the recipients at lower cost. The NDN Foundation has already received $15 million in federal funds to support the creation of the NTI, and University Medical Center has committed another $12 million along with several private groups making contributions to the initiative.
Our total fundraising goal of $35 million will allow the institute to function as the state’s first multidisciplinary and multiorgan program, accepting viable organs that would otherwise be passed over. This will allow more people to receive the gift of life much quicker with better outcomes while contributing significantly to Nevada’s economy over time.