UCSD Creates Joint Liver Transplant Program

A new liver transplantation partnership, created by UCSD Health and Sharp HealthCare, went into effect on Jan. 7. The program combines a university-affiliated health system with what Sharp calls “not-for-profit” health care, aiming to improve care and expand resources for liver care patients in San Diego. 

Under the new program, patients undergo surgery at UCSD Health and receive their additional care at Sharp. Jackie Carr, the Assistant Executive Director of Communications and Media Relations at UCSD Health, told the UCSD Guardian that the partnership maximizes the clinical experience at a more cost-effective level than in previous years. 

“The benefit of this joint partnership is that the two hospitals are cooperating to offer advanced liver transplantation care,” Carr said. “Instead of Sharp starting its own liver transplant program, and duplicating services, it will refer patients to UCSD for surgery, the region’s only academic health system. Costs are kept down while patients receive lifesaving care from an experienced surgery and critical care team.”

Dan Gross, executive vice president of hospital operations at Sharp HealthCare, described his enthusiasm for how the program streamlines liver care in San Diego.

“We at Sharp HealthCare are excited about the establishment of the joint liver transplant program with UCSD Health,” Gross said in a press release by UCSD Health. “Preventing program duplication while meeting community health care needs and driving down healthcare costs is rewarding.”

Between July 2012 and June 2013, UCSD Health’s liver transplant program maintained a one-year survival rate of 95 percent, surpassing similar programs in Southern California, including Cedars-Sinai and Scripps, which had survival rates of 90 and 89 percent, respectively. 

Carr also maintained that UCSD Health is unique for its deceased or living donor options and that it is the only local hospital to provide living donor transplants.  

In addition, the clinical collaboration includes Southern California GI and Liver Centers, a clinic that specializes in what Tarek Hassanein of Southern California GI and Liver Centers, and professor of medicine at UCSD’s School of Medicine, describes as “the whole spectrum of liver disease.” He also explained to the Guardian how this will allow the liver transplant program to extend beyond San Diego, estimating an extra 10 to 20 transplants may be performed per year. 

“[The partnership] entails coordinating care between the three different groups, blending the expertise of each of the groups to the best of the others,” Hassanein said. “This allows us to reach the patients deep within the community of Southern California because we have offices in Riverside County, Palm Springs, Orange County, Imperial Valley, San Diego, Chula Vista and Coronado … I would imagine there would be access to thousands of patients under the program of those few that will need transplants.” 

According to Carr, an overwhelming number of people are in need of organ transplants but may not be fortunate enough to receive them. 

“More than 120,000 people nationally are waiting for an organ,” Carr said. “Due to the shortage of donated organs, only a small percentage of those waiting actually receive their transplants. Sadly, many die waiting on the transplant list. Some organs may be transplanted from a living related donor, but the majority of transplants are dependent upon the generosity of families who donate the organs and tissues of their deceased, loved ones.”  

An individual is added to the organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes, with an average of 22 patients dying each day due to limited organ donors, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To reach the UCSD population, A.S. Associate Vice President of Local Affairs Noah Lightman suggested instituting on-campus programs to bolster student knowledge of organ donations.  

“I think that the best way to educate students is through programming of some sort,” Lightman told the Guardian. “Since UCSD does have a large commuter population that drives, one suggestion that I would recommend is making organ donation information as part of the process for buying a parking permit. This will help the school keep records of how many organ donors it has and inform students on the issue.”

Sharp HealthCare did not respond by press time. 

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