New liver transplant policy goes into effect Tuesday

New liver transplant policy goes into effect Tuesday
There is a new federal policy for liver transplants. (Source: Gray TV)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A delayed policy about liver transplants goes into effect Tuesday.

The new rules allow livers to be sent to patients in the most critical need within a 500-mile radius from the donation site.

The goal is to make sure the sickest people get what they need to live, even if that means flying a liver 500 miles to reach them.

For example, a Huntsville liver could go as far north as Chicago, as far south as Jacksonville or as far east as the Carolina coast.

UAB is the only liver transplant center in Alabama. Last spring, transplant surgeons and directors there said this policy kicks rural hospitals while they’re down, saying it can hurt their patients.

“They’re going to change the zip code of where people die, so less people die in the northeast and California, more people got to die somewhere else,” said Dr. Devin Eckhoff, UAB’s division director of transplant surgery.

“It’s difficult for them to even get to us. They have poor access to care. Poverty rates are much higher where we are. We’re the only transplant center in the state. You look at a patient who’s sick in New York City, for example, there’s multiple transplant centers all within several miles of him," said Dr. Robert Cannon, liver transplant associate director.

Government officials say the new rules are designed to statistically help the most people wherever they live. They say by extending where the livers can go, more lives can be saved.

The policy was supposed to go into effect last May but got delayed.

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