WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — More than 100,000 Americans are on the national list for an organ transplant, and about 30 of them die waiting every day.
Many more are unable to get on a waitlist.
On Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee broke down these numbers and examined whose responsibility it is to secure more organs and save more lives.
“The longer that we sit and wait is the closer we are to death,” LaQuayia Goldring, a patient waiting for a transplant, told lawmakers while hooked up to a dialysis machine.
“Honestly, I don’t want to die,” said Tonya Ingram, another patient on the transplant list.
Surgeons, like Dr. Seth Karp who is also the director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, know the organs are available and pleaded with lawmakers to help them better connect the donor to the patient.
“Lives have been lost in an unaccountable system,” Karp said.
“Reports of underperforming organ procurement organizations, or OPOs, began exposing what we now know is a very broken system,” said Rep. Michael Cloud, R-TX.
OPOs are responsible for organs obtained from deceased donors, which account for more than 80 percent of transplants. Cloud said there is poor oversight and accountability for these companies, something Rep. Cori Bush, D-MO, saw firsthand as a former transplant nurse.
“If the OPO fails at securing organs, no one else can provide this service,” Bush said. “That’s the thing. No one else can do this work.”
OPOs admitted to the committee that their industry is broken.
“We’ve turned the organ donor waiting list into the Hunger Games, a deadly arena of our own making in which we watch 33 Americans die every day,” said Matt Wadsworth, the president and CEO of Life Connection of Ohio.
But Wadsworth told lawmakers his company is trying to change that. He and a handful of other OPOs withdrew from the Association for Organ Procurement Organizations Tuesday.
“The donation and transplantation system has room to improve,” said Joe Ferreira, the president of the Association for Organ Procurement Organizations.
However, Ferreira said OPOs also depend on decisions made by a potential donor’s hospital and transplant centers.
“One common misconception is that OPOs are solely responsible,” he said.
A new reform rule aims to improve OPO performance standards and increase transplants by thousands per year, but it will not be enforced until 2026.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL, made it clear Congress will continue to work in a bipartisan way to investigate the companies and hold them accountable ahead of that deadline.
“OPOs have been falling short for years,” Krishnamoorthi said. “And yet, no OPO has ever lost certification no matter how badly they perform.”