SSM Health improves benefits for employees who become living organ donors

August 15, 2023

SSM Health is striving to alleviate some of the disincentives and barriers living organ donors face by improving its pay and medical leave benefits for employees who choose to become donors.

It can be difficult for people to become living donors, partly because they may not get the needed medical leave time to recuperate during an estimated four- to six-week recovery period. According to SSM Health, it is typical for people to use vacation time or take unpaid leave to make their organ donation.

The St. Louis-based system has changed its benefits policies "to support our colleagues who would consider such a selfless act," Sherry Ward, vice president of total rewards, said in a release on the new policies.

Employees serving as living donors are eligible for six weeks of medical leave at full pay and full coverage of their medical expenses under SSM Health's employee health plan, WellFirst Health. Before the change, employees were eligible for 60% pay only for medically necessary time off.

Dr. Krista Lentine, medical director of living donation at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital and a nephrologist with the affiliated SLUCare Physician Group, said in the release that as a transplant physician she sees firsthand the impact of providing living donors with support during recovery after donation surgery. She said the new SSM Health policies help "living donor employees recover without incurring financial loss in sharing the gift of life."

She added that improving employee benefits for these staff members illustrates that SSM Health, its facilities and its transplant program are dedicated "to reducing barriers to living donation and living donor transplantation."

According to the American Society of Transplantation, the most common organ donations are a kidney or a portion of the liver. The Health Resources and Services Administration said more than 104,000 people are on the national organ transplant waiting list. As of January, nearly 89,000 people were waiting for a kidney and more than 10,000 were waiting for a liver. Each day, 17 people die waiting for an organ transplant.

SSM Health's policy changes enabled the system to join the American Society of Transplantation's "Circle of Excellence," a designation given to organizations that support employees who donate an organ. This corporate recognition program "celebrates companies helping to eliminate barriers to living donation," according to the transplantation society.

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