In 2015, my family and I made a major contribution to help open a kidney transplant center at the George Washington University Hospital. We believed that this gift was essential in providing area residents fighting kidney disease a life-giving resource that would enable them to seek out and secure transplants — something only previously available at one D.C. hospital center. As a two-time recipient of a kidney transplant, I understand full well how critical transplants are if lives are to be saved.
In September, after objections to the opening of the GW center from Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, a D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that an administrative court had overstepped its authority in granting GW University a certificate of need to open the transplant center. Now, the matter rests once again with the regulators — who had initially denied approval.
It is extraordinarily important for this certificate of need to be upheld. The D.C. area has one of the highest rates of kidney disease in the country. African American residents are at higher risk for developing the disease and doing so at a relatively young age. GW outreach efforts with emphasis on Wards 7 and 8, where there is a higher concentration of dialysis patients, have reached an estimated 150,000 people, including through the GW Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program. Native Washingtonian and CBS sportscaster James Brown has led a media campaign on buses, radio, television and written and digital media to reach this most affected minority group. The transplant center that I helped establish has performed 89 transplants since 2015 but also has worked tirelessly within poorer neighborhoods to educate and to promote screening for this deadly killer.
Further, in cities across America, multiple kidney transplant centers are the rule, not the exception. Philadelphia has four hospitals that perform transplants; Boston has five. These centers are ones that focus on adults; there are additional transplant centers in these and other cities that offer additional specialized transplant services for children. To suggest that a single institution in the District can meet the need flies in the face of facts, statistics and the growing incidence of kidney disease throughout the nation’s capital. It would be a tragedy to shut down George Washington’s kidney transplant center at a time when it has never been needed more.
In recent testimony before the State Health Planning and Development Agency, I affirmed that George Washington is providing world-class transplant services to some of the most underserved populations in the District. When you have private-market participants making this kind of impact in a city with some of the worst health outcomes and disparities in the United States, the effort should be embraced and encouraged.
Should the certificate of need be denied, a very real and painful disservice will have been done to the thousands of kidney disease patients and their families who live and work in the District.
Ronald D. Paul is chairman and chief executive of EagleBank.