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This year’s annual conference CSR initiative will be in support of The Organ Project – a worthy cause benefitting the 4,500 Canadians waiting for a live-saving transplant. But organ donation is no longer solely the domain of medical professionals – there’s plenty you can do to help as well. Here’s what HR professionals need to know.

By Catherine Shaw

As a human resources professional, and as an employer, organ donation and transplantation may not seem like an obvious concern. However, the shortage of transplantable organs in Canada presents a potentially expensive and disruptive issue.

The good news is that there is a solution within our reach. One that does not require research, more equipment or more money. We just need more people to agree to leave their organs for others when they die, and we need to make it easier for people who want to be living donors. It is a solution that Canadian employers can make a significant contribution towards.

Canada has an organ shortage problem that, based on current trending, is only going to get worse. There are simply not enough organs – for example, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys – available, and the consequences are expensive and sometimes tragic.

The situation in Canada

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), Canada completed 2,835 organ transplants in 2016 – not nearly enough to keep up with demand. The number of Canadians waiting for an organ transplant was approximately 4,500. Some 260 Canadians died while they waited.

As an employer, you need to realise that the incidence of organ failure is on the rise, and that organ failure can happen to anyone, at any time. It can be expensive and highly disruptive to the individual, his or her family and the employer. Costs include missed work, hospitalization, medication and, in many cases of kidney failure, ongoing hemodialysis. For employees with children or parents experiencing organ failure, the impact is almost as significant as if they were sick themselves.

In most of cases of organ failure, transplantation is the best, and frequently only, treatment. The obvious course of action is to improve the accessibility to transplants by making more organs available.

Canadian employers can have a tremendous impact by:

  • Implementing workplace programs that raise awareness and encourage staff to register as deceased organ donors; and
  • Ensuring your employment policies and benefits programs facilitate living organ donation.
  • Encouraging employees to register as deceased donors

Most organs used for transplantation in Canada come from deceased donors – individuals who agree to pass their organs on when they die.

While 89 per cent of Canadians say they support the idea of organ donation, the rate of deceased donor registration is only 20.9 per million, below international standards and less than half of what is needed.

In Canada, only about two per cent of all deaths fulfill the strict clinical criteria to make the deceased a potential candidate for organ donation. Further, not all potential donors become actual donors due to issues of clinical matching and family consent. In fact, studies show that Canadians are five to six times more likely to need an organ transplant than they are to ever become an organ donor.

Workplace programs provide a great opportunity to help raise awareness and increase deceased donor registration. Research confirms that while workplace initiatives that simply provide information can fall flat, workplace initiatives that combine educational information with either a change in environment/culture, a change in policy or participation incentives can be the most effective at achieving the desired outcome.

Help build a culture of donation in your organization. Deliver an awareness and registration campaign that helps employees understand that registering to be a deceased donor is easy and risk-free. It might also be the most generous thing they ever do.

Create a competition for the most registrations between divisions, subsidiaries or jurisdictions. Maybe challenge a competitor in your industry and see who can get the most employees to register in a month. Involve someone from the organ donation and transplant community to help make the campaign “personal,” perhaps a transplant recipient or a surgeon. The Organ Project would be happy to help you design a campaign and measure the impact.

Ensuring your employee policies facilitate living donation

In many cases, a person’s medical condition is such that the wait for a deceased donor isn’t possible and donation by a living donor is the only option for survival. Where there is an appropriate clinical match, one kidney, one lobe of a lung, a portion of the liver, small intestine or pancreas can be transplanted from someone who is alive, without medically compromising the donor.

Often there is a close familial relationship between donor and recipient, such as a parent donating to a child or a brother donating to a sister. In other instances, as in the case of The Organ Project’s founder Eugene Melnyk, the donor is completely unknown to the recipient.

For the donor, the transplant involves a series of pre-surgery clinical tests and a typical post-operative recovery. While a number of provinces like Ontario, B.C. and Quebec are requiring employers to provide an unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 13 weeks, forward-thinking employers, like the Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia, have implemented a special leave specifically designed to support living organ donors.

Recognizing that fear of financial hardship and loss of employment are two key barriers that might prevent an employee from becoming a living donor, Fraser Health has provided an eight-week paid leave. Organizational benefits flow from improved productivity of the employee once they are fully recovered, limited disruption and the goodwill associated with helping to save a life.

See if your organization has a policy to support living organ donation. If it doesn’t, implement one. Help your employees overcome the disruptions of supporting a loved one waiting for an organ transplant. Facilitating immediate treatment has a better outcome for everyone involved.

Together we can work to increase the number of registered deceased donors and facilitate living donation for those immediately affected by transplantation within your employee base.

Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to start planning your registration campaign or to discuss employment benefits for living donors.

Catherine Shaw is the chief operating officer at The Organ Project.

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