Hospital managers should throw their full weight behind HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's effort to increase the number of organs available for transplantation.
Thompson was a big hit at last week's American Hospital Association's convention in Washington. His self-deprecating wit and straight-talking Midwestern wisdom energized the 2,000-plus executives and board leaders in attendance. This guy is a problem-solver, and he's declared organ donations his top personal priority.
The hospital lobby can score some big points with the HHS boss by boosting the issue with employees, patients and the media. In return, he might pay closer attention to the industry's agenda.
But there doesn't need to be a quid pro quo. Organ transplantation has become a victim of its own success. And that success has helped bolster the reputation and finances of many healthcare organizations. Some 261 transplant centers offered 868 organ-specific programs last year, up from 249 centers and 695 programs in 1990.
The problem is on the supply side. There were 22,000 transplants in the U.S. last year, but more than 75,000 patients remain on waiting lists. Furthermore, the shortage has generated heated bickering among states, hospitals and transplant surgeons on how the organs are distributed.
When Thompson was the governor of Wisconsin, he predictably favored keeping organs donated in Wisconsin with in-state providers and transplanted into the bodies of the state's needy residents.
But in his new role, Thompson has agreed to take a fresh look at how donated organs are assigned. The medical community needs to follow his lead and set aside its differences in a united effort to back the campaign.
Encourage employees to sign donor cards. Successful internal results can stimulate a communitywide education and solicitation drive. Healthcare leaders need to emphasize that donating organs is a personal decision that merits frank discussion with family members and caregivers.