Via Christi officials are taking steps to restart the suspended kidney transplant program, including hiring a new transplant administrator, recruiting physicians and finishing new offices for the program at the hospital on St. Francis.
Last month, the hospital brought on Gary Sigle, the former director of clinical transplant for Humana, as the new transplant administrator. With Humana, Sigle monitored the quality of contract transplant programs. Before that, he was clinical director and administrative director for the Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute in Oklahoma City, a multi-organ transplant center.
“I’ve been working closely with the physician recruitment team to bring in some physician leadership in the program,” Sigle said. “I’m also working on quality aspects of the program, looking at regulations ... to make sure the program is compliant, and working with administration on business plans.”
Next week, the transplant institute within the hospital on St. Francis is moving from the sixth floor to the second floor.
The newly renovated area is where patients can have pre- and post-operative appointments. It includes four exam rooms, a charting room, two consulting rooms, reception and patient waiting areas, and administrative offices and work space.
The offices will also have telemedicine capabilities for providers to communicate with patients in rural parts of the state, Sigle said. Transplants will be done in surgery on the third floor of the hospital.
Via Christi suspended its transplant program in May 2012 after four patients who had received transplants in the previous 12 months died within a three-week period and another suffered kidney failure but lived. Hospital officials said an investigation into the deaths showed no common threads.
The next month, the two transplant surgeons, Charles Shield and Anthony Rezcallah, left Wichita Surgical Specialists, which provided physicians for the program. Shield retired and Rezcallah resigned.
Last year, Via Christi’s program was on track to perform about 50 transplants, a relatively small number. Typically, a moderate program would do about 80 transplants a year; large programs do upwards of 140 per year.
The kidney transplant program was originally started in 1981 and had performed more than 1,100 transplants.
Via Christi officials previously said they would need to have physicians in place by the end of May to avoid going through the entire accreditation process again. But in May, the hospital was given preliminary approval for a six-month extension from the United Network for Organ Sharing, an accreditation body.
Now, they’ll need to have physicians in place by November or have to go through additional paperwork and re-accreditation with UNOS, Sigle said.
“It’s kind of like recruiting an NBA player. It’s a longer term notice on their side, as much as three to six months when a physician leaves an organization,” Sigle said. “If we have contracts in place, usually it’s recognized by the folks at UNOS that you have the structure in place. It’s not an absolute drop-dead date.”
They’re currently recruiting two surgeons and one nephrologist, Sigle said.
“It’s a little more complex than just recruiting individual physicians,” Sigle said. “We’re asking them to be a team for a long-term program.”
“I think we’re going to have a really great program that’s bigger and better than it was before,” Sigle said.
Sigle’s first goal is to get the kidney program restarted and to have good quality outcomes. Later he hopes to add a hepatologist, who primarily treats the liver.
“The goal for that program is to seek out people with liver failure or disease and treat that. There’s a very high prevalence in this region of liver disease,” Sigle said. “In Oklahoma City, there are four hepatologists and a six month wait to get treatment. They have a lot of referrals from the Wichita area and we want to support those patients.”
The next phase, Sigle said, will be surgical treatment for liver cancer and ultimately liver and pancreas transplants, which Via Christi has not performed in the past.