Lutheran earns certification for transplant programs
By DERRICK GINGERY
The heart and kidney transplant programs at Lutheran Hospital have received three-year certifications from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Lutheran's programs were the first in Indiana to receive certification, which marked the first time CMS has done an on-site survey of transplant programs.
The news was particularly important for the heart transplant program at Lutheran. While hospital officials were confident they would receive the CMS certification, the program had not met mandated minimum volume requirements for the number of transplants performed yearly.
Registered nurse Margaret Scatena, Lutheran Hospital transplant administrative director, said volume was not the only factor in CMS's decision. Survival rates and patient satisfaction also were among the areas considered important, she said.
Lutheran has the only transplant program in northeast Indiana. The state's other transplant centers are in Indianapolis.
"It's important for this community (that) patients don't have to drive three hours for care," Scatena said.
Without CMS certification, Medicare and Medicaid would not pay Lutheran Hospital for a transplant if a patient enrolled in the health-care programs had the procedure done there. Some private insurance companies also look to CMS certification when determining whether to pay for procedures at a facility.
As part of the certification requirements, CMS set a new rule that heart transplant centers must perform at least an average of 10 procedures per year during the last three years. Lutheran performed nine transplants last year, 11 in 2007 and eight in 2006 – an average of more than nine.
In 2007, transplant doctors and staff met with physicians in outlying areas, including South Bend, Marion, and Bryan and Van Wert, Ohio, to build relationships and boost patient referrals. Dr. Joe Ladowski, Lutheran heart transplant program director, said CMS certification may not necessarily lead to more transplant patients. But he said it should place Lutheran in the minds of doctors in the surrounding areas.
"The level of reassurance for referring doctors or families is much greater," Ladowski said.
Before certification was required, Lutheran had been approved to accept Medicare and Medicaid transplant patients. Surgeons have performed 256 heart transplants at Lutheran since the program's inception in 1985, according to a statement from the hospital.
The Lutheran kidney transplant program is much younger than the heart program. Since the first procedure in June 2007, 37 transplants have been done, including 20 last year, Scatena said.