March 12, 2004

Transplant Return-to-Work Program to be national model

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Herbert Y. Meltzer, M.D.

Transplant Return-to-Work Program to be national model

Vanderbilt’s Transplant Return-to-Work Program has been selected as a model for the nationwide implementation of similar programs throughout the transplant community.

The Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation (ACOT), an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, submitted a recommendation to Secretary Tommy Thompson that the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) should encourage its transplant centers to “establish and implement back-to-work programs for transplant recipients and living organ donors because of their proven ability in improving post-transplant quality of life.”

The recommendation, one of seven the ACOT proposed, states that the group believes that “all transplant centers should develop, in conjunction with their state's vocational rehabilitation department, a back-to-work program (sometimes referred to as a return-to-work program) for transplant recipients, and, where applicable, for living donors.

“The back-to-work referral should begin prior to transplantation. It may even be useful to begin vocational evaluation while patients are still on dialysis, especially since many dialysis patients have been out of work for many years,” the recommendation reads.

“Vanderbilt University’s (transplant) Back-to-Work Program demonstrates the interrelationship of such a vocational effort and Quality of Life,” it continues.

The Vanderbilt program began in 1995. More than 270 patients have obtained jobs or state scholarships for state college or vocational school.

“We have been fortunate to have the support of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation Services in implementing our program. It funds us through a block grant,” said Joanne Ball, director of the Transplant Return-to-Work Program at Vanderbilt.

“Unfortunately, only a handful of return-to-work programs are currently in existence at transplant centers. Lack of funding is a major reason for the low number of return-to-work programs at other transplant sites.

“The ACOT recommendation has the potential to better the lives of transplant recipients throughout the country,” Ball said.

The OPTN represents more than 900 individual transplant programs housed in 260 hospitals throughout the country.