liver cirrhosis. cystic fibrosis. Coronary heart desease. These conditions can result in a patient needing a liver, lung, or heart transplant to survive. Unfortunately, if this patient lives in Nevada, they will have to move out of the state to receive these types of transplant services. There is only one transplant center in Southern Nevada, the University Medical Center (UMC), which only offers kidney transplants and services.
Imagine that you or someone you love are being forced to choose between the financial, physical and emotional toll of traveling to neighboring states to get needed care or being admitted to a hospice, a choice that particularly affects culturally and socio-economically diverse populations. More than 600 Nevadans are currently awaiting life-saving organ transplants. As one of the top performing organ procurement organizations in the country, the Nevada Donor Network’s organ procurement far exceeds the current waiting list, yet over 90% of all life-saving organs (liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and intestines) leave our state because we don’t have the infrastructure for the healthcare to care for these critically ill patients.
While advances and rapid breakthroughs in the science of organ transplantation have saved hundreds of thousands of lives across the country, we must note that the business model for organ transplantation has not evolved significantly in the 70 years since the first transplant operation. Currently, all transplant centers across the country are affiliated with hospitals, hospital systems or universities, which are subject to financial and administrative restrictions from the parent institution. This can lead to organ rationing or missed transplant opportunities.
To address the problems, we must offer an innovative solution. To successfully end the wait for the people of Nevada in dire need of a life-saving organ, we must adopt a “for Nevadans, by Nevadans” approach and expand transplant programs and services here in the state. Enter the Nevada Transplant Institute (NTI), a pioneering initiative of the Nevada Donor Network (NDN) and the Nevada Donor Network Foundation (NDNF). The NTI will be a network of hospitals, providers and payers working together to work with existing hospital systems and infrastructure while leveraging healthcare services that are currently available and present across the state.
So how will it work? First, the NTI will expand the current kidney transplant program at University Medical Center and establish a liver transplant program unique in Nevada. NDN and its foundation will recruit qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals to Nevada. The NDN team anticipates that by the end of the year, NTI will be able to perform liver transplants and services in Las Vegas and begin offering kidney transplants and services in Reno.
A few years ago, NDNF launched a $35 million “End the Wait” fundraiser to raise the funds needed to develop the NTI. End the Wait highlights include:
• $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding was awarded by the state.
• UMC made a US$12 million philanthropic commitment that will be in kind and benefits along with a cash contribution component.
• $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds awarded by the City of Las Vegas.
With the above commitments, we are well on our way to revolutionizing transplant services in the country. Once established, over time the impact of the NTI will extend well beyond the thousands of newly listed and transplanted patients. It will transform the fight to save more people waiting for a second chance at life and allow us to better serve our heroic organ donors and their brave families.
Expanding transplant services in Nevada will create a more collaborative and resilient healthcare sector. With support from both the public and private sectors, and through highly integrated partnerships with hospitals across the state, NTI will contribute to healthcare growth, economic development, research and commercialization, and expanding the medical community.
The state in which a patient resides should not define their ability to undergo organ transplantation. With the establishment of the Nevada Transplant Institute, we will improve overall healthcare delivery in Nevada and help correct health inequalities of access among diverse populations in dire need of transplant-related services.
Steven Peralta is the President of the Nevada Donor Network Foundation, a federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.