Two University of Alabama at Birmingham employees approached Robert Gaston, M.D., in the summer of 2016 with a plea. The employees — one of whom was an organ donor, the other a recipient — said that, because potential living organ and bone-marrow donors were required to use accrued vacation and sick leave to pursue donation, it discouraged employees from considering giving.
Some potential donors, they said, might not have the vacation or sick time necessary or the full financial resources available to miss time from work. They asked Gaston whether UAB could add incentives to its employee benefits to encourage donation.
Gaston, the Robert G. Luke Endowed Chair in Transplant Nephrology, has been involved on a national level with efforts to remove disincentives for living donors, and was extremely supportive of trying to improve the situation. On behalf of the two employees, Gaston enlisted UAB Transplant Administrator Martha Tankersly’s help, and together, the two made the suggestion to the UAB Benefits Committee that UAB extend its benefits to include paid leave for employees who are living donors for solid organ or bone-marrow transplants. The Benefits Committee recently approved the proposal, which begins March 1, 2017.
The new benefit provides four weeks of paid leave to donors of solid organs, such as kidneys and livers, and one week to bone-marrow donors; additional paid leave, if needed for the health of the employee, also may be available through the university’s donated sick-time program, including the new sick-leave pool.
“Right now, for most in the United States who wish to donate an organ for transplantation — even though the medical costs are paid by the recipient’s insurance — other expenses are not,” said Gaston, director of UAB’s Comprehensive Transplant Institute. “This includes time off work, travel, lost wages, etc. And the amount can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Our two employees showed me that Alabama was one of only 19 states not to address the financial implications of living donation in some fashion — with benefits ranging from paid leave to state tax deductions or tax credits. With the support of UAB President Ray Watts, UAB Health System CEO Will Ferniany and School of Medicine Dean Selwyn Vickers, and on behalf of our employees who pushed for this benefit, it’s terrific to say paid leave to donate a kidney or bone marrow at UAB is a reality.”
|Divyank Saini, a UAB lab technologist who works to match compatible kidney donors and recipients, became Kidney Chain donor No. 57 in March 2016. Read or watch to learn more about his story and UAB’s donor program.|
“As home to one of the largest kidney transplant centers in the nation — one that has performed more living donor transplants than any other program in the United States — we believe UAB has an opportunity and the heart to support the patient care mission and the needs of our employees and their families,” said UAB Chief Human Resource Officer Alesia Jones. “This paid donor-leave benefit enables us to do both.”
To be eligible for the paid leave, an employee must have 12 months of service at UAB, must have worked at least 1,250 hours in that period and must be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Policy. The new leave is a supplement to HR Policy 304 Other Paid Leave.
Why now? Why UAB?
UAB is home to the nation’s longest, continuous living-donor kidney transplant chain, and its surgeons perform an average 300 kidney transplants each year.
|“There is strong evidence that, especially in economic downturns, living donation among middle to lower socioeconomic strata declines. How can we not lead the way in ensuring that Alabamians who wish to help others through organ donation are shielded from financial stress as much as possible?”|
But more than 3,000 people are on Alabama’s kidney transplant waiting list. Consequently, statistics show more patients will die while waiting than will receive a transplant. One of the best ways to bring more donors into the pool is through its Living Donor Program. UAB is part of two national efforts to increase access to organ transplants and reduce the number of patients on the waiting list that were announced during the 2016 White House Organ Donation Summit.
At this time, neither state nor federal law requires employers to provide leave — paid or unpaid — for organ donors. Alabama is one of only 13 states that does not provide any paid or unpaid leave and/or a tax credit/deduction for state or public employees who are living donors, according to a report prepared by the National Kidney Foundation in October 2016.
Jones says she hopes UAB’s policy is a model that other employers throughout the state will consider as a means to help address a critical need for Alabama residents. Gaston says he hopes to use this as a way to push for further action statewide.
“Our next stop is Montgomery, with hopes of extending the benefit to all Alabama state employees,” Gaston said. “There is strong evidence that, especially in economic downturns, living donation among middle to lower socioeconomic strata declines. How can we not lead the way in ensuring that Alabamians who wish to help others through organ donation are shielded from financial stress as much as possible?”
Those interested in exploring the opportunity to become a living organ donor should fill out the Living Kidney Donor Screening Form. Register with the Alabama Organ Center today to be an organ, eye and tissue donor upon death.