Why kidney transplants are harder to get

Modern Healthcare | Kristen Schorsch, Crain's Chicago Business
Dr. Yolanda Becker is a transplant surgeon at University of Chicago Medicine.Photo by Manuel Martinez

Kidneys are by far the most in-demand organ for transplants. Yet Chicago-area hospitals are putting down their scalpels and taking on fewer cases.

In 2015, local transplant centers collectively performed nearly two-thirds fewer kidney transplants than they did just five years ago. Meanwhile, the waiting list for a kidney in Illinois reached its highest point in nearly 30 years in 2013 and has dipped only slightly since then.

The shift worries organ donation advocates, who blame the drop in transplants on hospitals being more cautious as federal regulations became more rigorous in the past decade. Last year, Gift of Hope, a nonprofit organ donation advocacy group in Itasca, sent more than 150 kidneys to patients in other states after Illinois transplant hospitals turned some of them down, the organization's CEO, Kevin Cmunt, says. Another 121 kidneys were used for research instead. Collectively, hospitals statewide performed 439 kidney transplants in 2015.

“Every day these regulations are out there causing the loss of organs and disadvantaging patients is bad,” Cmunt says.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates the transplant industry, did not make anyone available for an interview. But experts say the federal agency enhanced its scrutiny on transplant programs to boost survival rates for patients and the organs they receive. Continue reading
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