LITTLE ROCK – The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center in Little Rock has received approval for payment by the Medicare program for liver transplants, a certification that will greatly expand access to the state’s only liver transplant program.
Effective April 24, the transplant program could accept Medicare beneficiaries, whose care will be covered by the government health insurance program for people age 65 and older or individuals with disabilities. To receive Medicare certification, UAMS submitted information on its transplant team, facilities, procedures, support from a local organ procurement organization and results from its first year of transplants.
In its first 15 transplants, the program had a 93 percent survival rate after one year from surgery, which outpaced the 86.4 percent national average for the same period. The only patient who died in the first year of the UAMS program was killed in a vehicle accident. To date, 52 liver transplants have been performed at UAMS and there are 15 patients on the transplant waiting list.
“Our liver transplant program has begun and matured with excellent results. Medicare approval is a stamp of national recognition for which we as an institution can be proud,” said Michael Edwards, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Edwards also credited the UAMS Transplant Council, established to coordinate the liver transplant program, with representatives from departments involved in the program. The group was led by Charles Smith, M.D., executive associate dean for clinical affairs in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Youmin Wu, M.D., director of the UAMS Multi-Organ Transplant Program, who performed the state’s first liver transplant on May 14, 2005.
“The transplant council led by Dr. Wu and Dr. Smith has done an amazing job in achieving our stated goal. It could not have been successful without the support of so many to whom we are grateful,” Edwards said.
Transplant programs cannot apply for certification until they have performed at least 12 transplants and have a year of program data. UAMS became eligible in November 2006.
An estimated 200 Arkansans who called about the program since the first transplant was performed in May 2005 had to be referred out of state because of the lack of Medicare certification. Edwards added that many insurance carriers also want a new program to have Medicare certification before they will work with it.
“The Medicare endorsement of our transplant program enables us to deliver on one of the goals behind establishing the program – providing care for Arkansans who otherwise would have had to go out of state for a liver transplant,” said Richard Pierson, vice chancellor for clinical programs and executive director of UAMS Medical Center.
Wu arrived at UAMS in 2004 to establish the transplant program after successfully creating transplant programs in Iowa and his native China.
“Our continued success has been the result of hard work by our transplant team and strong support from the hospital and all of UAMS,” said Wu, director of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program and professor of surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine. “Attaining Medicare certification for liver transplants was a long-coveted goal and the missing piece to get our program up to truly national competitive standards. The future of the liver program at UAMS is bright indeed.”
UAMS added its second liver transplant surgeon in 2006 with the arrival of Frederick Bentley, M.D., vice chairman for clinical affairs of the Department of Surgery.
Earlier this year, UAMS established a Liver Disease Referral Center to provide comprehensive care for the most serious liver conditions. A toll-free phone number, 1-866-91-LIVER (1-866-915-4837) was set up to allow quick referrals of patients to the center by doctors around the state and region. The center is a joint venture of the departments of Internal Medicine and Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, in cooperation with UAMS Medical Center.
In April 2005, the liver transplant program received its certification to begin transplants from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit, scientific and education organization that administers the nation’s organ procurement and transplantation network. The Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery Agency (ARORA), a Little Rock-based organ procurement agency, serves the UAMS liver transplant program.
UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,430 students and 715 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,400 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit www.uams.edu.