Heart transplants closer

Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics has moved a step closer to establishing a heart transplant program.

The board of the United Network of Organ Sharing voted June 26 to approve the health system as part of its group of heart transplant programs. UNOS, based in Richmond, Va., facilitates the distribution and transplantation of organs from deceased donors in the United States.

The approval means the health system has shown that it has at least one doctor and one surgeon experienced in heart transplants, as well as the necessary support staff, such as social workers and financial counselors, in place, said UNOS spokesman Joel Newman.

"They have demonstrated they have trained an experienced staff," he said.

It would be the only heart transplant program in the area. MCG already was approved for kidney and pancreas transplants.

In a meeting last month of the board of MCG Health Inc., which runs the health system, the directors approved a budget that includes spending $1.6 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 to perform eight heart transplants this year. Medicare requires a program to perform 10 cases before it will allow reimbursement, and that reimbursement starts one year after the outcome of the 10th case is known, according to Robert McVicker, vice president of decision support and business planning at MCG Health. While some board members questioned how quickly the program could begin, D. Douglas Miller, dean of the MCG School of Medicine, called it an "optimistic target" but added that it was realistic to think transplants could begin by the end of the year.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com