Organ transplant group withdraws plan to penalize Maryland medical centers

Previous sanctions hurt those in need of kidneys

November 20, 1999|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

A national group that directs organs to hospitals around the country decided yesterday to withdraw a policy that would have forced people scheduled for kidney transplants at Maryland hospitals to wait much longer.

After hearing testimony that the policy would have punished the sick, the United Network for Organ Sharing agreed to a compromise that Maryland transplant advocates say treats the patients more fairly.

"I am very pleased that our patients will no longer be threatened and that we have a new plan that we can work with UNOS on," said Marion Borowiecki, chief executive officer of the Maryland Transplant Resource Center. The group coordinates donations and transplants in the state.

In June, UNOS approved sanctions that would have penalized Maryland's busy transplant centers for importing more kidneys from other states than they export. The group said Maryland had accumulated a debt of 65 kidneys and would have to "pay back" the debt by passing up kidneys that might otherwise have gone to patients here.

The rule, which was to take effect Dec. 1, would have applied only to the 20 percent of kidneys that match a patient's tissues perfectly. If an organ matched someone in another state, it would have gone to that patient regardless of time spent on the waiting list.

Doctors at the two transplant centers in Maryland -- the University of Maryland Medical Center and the Johns Hopkins Hospital -- said the hospitals were being penalized for their success. They are among the busiest transplant centers in the region and draw many patients from other states.

Meeting in Baltimore, the UNOS board said Maryland was making progress reducing the imbalance. Beginning July 1, the organization will start calculating the debt again and will not penalize Maryland provided it holds to less than nine.

"The board wanted to show they had good faith in Maryland," said Bob Spieldenner, a UNOS spokesman. The group is a private organization based in Richmond, Va., that coordinates the distribution of organs nationwide under a contract with the federal government.

On Wednesday, Congressional leaders delayed implementation of regulations sought by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala that would have required scarce organs to go to the neediest patients -- no matter where they live. In a last-minute move, Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert inserted a provision blocking the regulations into a package containing two popular bills, including one that helps the disabled return to work.

If allowed to go into effect, the rules might have made negotiations between Maryland and UNOS somewhat beside the point because such rules would have erased the boundaries between states.

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