By: Paul Merrion | Crain's Chicago Business
In a decision that will help ease Chicago’s chronic shortage of human organs for transplants, the federal government will allow one of Rockford’s three major hospitals to leave a donation network in Wisconsin and align with one that serves Northern Illinois.
The hard-fought switch to Itasca-based Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network comes after a year of deliberation by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees 58 regional non-profits that collect and distribute kidneys, hearts, livers and other organs within their territories.
In Gift of Hope’s territory, which covers 179 hospitals in all but the bottom third of the state, about 300 people die each year waiting for a transplant. With about 800 transplant operations conducted annually, primarily by Chicago hospitals, the local supply will increase nearly 5% with an additional 30 to 40 organs coming from Rockford instead of going to Wisconsin.
The waiting time for a kidney in Wisconsin is about 11 months, while it averages about four years in Chicago. More than 4,700 people are on a waiting list for organ transplants in Gift of Hope’s region.
“This will be a good thing for patients in Illinois, and the hospitals,” said Jarold Anderson, Gift of Hope’s president and CEO. “There just aren’t enough organs to go around. Demand is way up there, and supply is down.”
Since 1997, Rockford’s OSF St. Anthony Medical Center had been allowed by a waiver to work exclusively with the University of Wisconsin Organ Procurement Organization in Madison, about 45 minutes away. But St. Anthony sought to realign with Gift of Hope after the university’s medical system, UW Health, affiliated with Swedish American Hospital, St. Anthony’s biggest competitor, in March 2010.
“UW decided to enter our marketplace as a competitor,” said David Schertz, president and CEO of St. Anthony, which announced plans last week to merge with the city’s other big hospital, Rockford Health System, which is already part of the Gift of Hope network, along with St. Anthony’s parent company, Peoria-based OSH Health Care System.
Mr. Schertz said the realignment also will reduce costs and allow for systemwide education about organ donation procedures.
The University of Wisconsin opposed the switch, arguing that St. Anthony accounts for about 10% of its organ supply.
“We were obviously quite disappointed” by the decision, said Jonathan Sender, director of federal relations for the university. “We certainly feel this will disadvantage not just Rockford patients and people from Illinois who come here for service, but it will hurt Wisconsin recipients as well.”
Gift of Hope supplies organs to Peoria-based OSF St. Francis Hospital, Memorial Medical Center in Springfield and seven transplant centers in the Chicago area, including Advocate Christ Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Children's Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, Loyola University Medical Center, University of Chicago Medical Center and the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.