Alberta announces new $2M organ donation program

The emergency entrance at the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary. (Getty Images)

The province is hoping to improve organ and tissue donation rates in Alberta with the introduction of a new $2 million program.

The Specialist in End-of-Life Care, Neuroprognostication and Donation (SEND) program, announced on Monday, will see 22 physicians across the province coordinating organ donation and transplantation opportunities to increase donations and save more lives.

"Their role is to increase awareness, educate and consult with healthcare professionals in emergency departments and ICUs," said Minister of Health Jason Copping.

"With improved awareness and training – and coordination of resources – more staff will be able to identify appropriate opportunities for organ and tissue donation and provide support and options to families who have lost a loved one and could consent to donation." 

The 22 staff in the program will be located in the following areas:

  • Calgary: Six physicians and one program lead, plus one pediatric physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital;
  • Edmonton: Six physicians and one program lead, plus two pediatric physicians in a shared position at the Stollery Children’s Hospital;
  • Red Deer: One physician;
  • Lethbridge: Two physicians (in one shared position); and
  • Grande Prairie: Two physicians (in one shared position).

It is expected that the program will expand to Medicine Hat and Fort McMurray in 2023.

Though Alberta’s donation rate has increased by 28 per cent from 2011, Copping says many Albertans are waiting for surgery.

"Right now, hundreds of Albertans are desperately waiting for life-changing and life-saving transplants of organs or tissues. Their families are waiting as well. I want them to know that we are taking actions to improve the donation and transplant system and give you hope that a match can be found.”

Before the creation of the SEND program, the UCP says northern and southern Alberta each had a medical director who also functioned as donation specialist physicians.

"However, there were no dedicated donation physician positions for individual hospitals and intensive care units," a news release explained.

Joyce Van Deurzen, executive director for the Southern Alberta Branch of The Kidney Foundation of Canada, says investing in a fully resourced organ donation system for the province will be life-changing.

"Everything we can do to support families and individuals in becoming organ donors is vital," she added.

The province says, as of April 25, more than 21 per cent (815,000) of adult Albertans have registered their wishes to become an organ and/or tissue donor after death. 

Albertans who are interested in becoming an organ and tissue donor can register their consent at UltimateGiftAlberta.ca or in person at an Alberta registry office.