Transplant patients and families have a new place to stay in St. Louis | Health

Diana J. Smith

ST. LOUIS — Mid-America Transplant on Wednesday will mark the opening of its new $12.3 million Family House in the Dogtown neighborhood, providing out-of-town patients needing transplants a place to stay at little or no cost while waiting for and recovering from a transplant.

Elected officials, hospital administrators, surgeons and former patients are scheduled to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the 34,000-square-foot building equipped with 15 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom apartments.

The new building more than doubles the capacity of 10 lofts that Mid-America had been renting next to its office in the Highland Plaza business complex since 2013. The lofts were often in use and families were staying in their cars or racking up expensive hotel bills, Diane Brockmeier, president and CEO of Mid-America Transplant.

“We had to turn people away because the demand was more than what we could make available,” Brockmeier said. “We are hopeful we will be able to meet a larger percentage of that need.”

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The new Family House is located close to St. Louis’ four major transplant centers: Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.

The building also offers a respite room, catering kitchen, business center and community room.

It can takes months to wait for and recover from a transplant. Patients need to prepare for the surgery, be close by when an organ becomes available and make frequent follow-up visits.

Since 2013, more than 250 families have used the lofts and stayed an average of 100 days, Brockmeier said.

Patients having to travel several hours had been identified as a barrier to getting them on waiting lists for needed organs and ensuring optimal outcomes while recovering.

“We looked at, ‘What could we do to remove another barrier that families were encountering?’” Brockmeier said. “They are already carrying the burden of chronic illness or an acute illness in the case of someone needing a transplant, so what can we do help make that journey comfortable for them?”

Mid‐America Transplant coordinates organ, tissue, and eye donations in 84 counties covering eastern Missouri, southern Illinois and northeast Arkansas. It is the only organ procurement organization in the country with apartment-style accommodations available to patients in treatment and their families, Brockmeier said.

Mid‐America Transplant in 2015 was the first organ procurement organization to be recognized as a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for Performance Excellence. This year, it became the industry’s only two‐time recipient.

The award is the nation’s only presidential award for performance excellence among businesses and nonprofits. It was established in 1987 to encourage businesses to adopt improvement measures. A panel of judges chooses a handful of awardees each year, and winners agree to share their best practices with others.

Since adopting the improvement model in 2003, Mid-America has seen a 167% increase in the number of organs transplanted and a 385% increase in the number of tissue donors.

In that time, the number of employees has grown from around 25 to 200, Brockmeier said.

Staff work closely with hospitals to support families through donation decisions, she said. They talk about organ and tissue donation to schools, churches and other groups. They also train state licensing office employees in how to help residents deciding to mark themselves as organ donors on driver’s licenses.

“But the people we have to think for the difference we’ve been able to make are the generosity of donor families, who are able to think about bettering the lives of strangers during a really dark time in their lives,” Brockmeier said. “They are the true heroes in the whole process.”

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