State Health Commissioner Announces New State-Federal-Local Partnership to Increase Number of New Yorkers Who Sign Up on State’s Organ and Tissue Donor Registry

Cites Shortage of Organs and Tissues for New Yorkers Waiting for Transplants

NEW YORK, NY (July 28, 2011) – New York State Health Commissioner Nirav. R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., today announced a new partnership effort to encourage more New Yorkers to "Give the Gift of Life" by signing up on the State's Organ and Tissue Donor Registry.

Joined by federal, state and local officials as well as transplant recipients and family members of donors at the Manhattan headquarters of the New York Organ Donor Network, Commissioner Shah noted that each year more than 1,200 New Yorkers receive organ transplants but more than 9,000 New Yorkers are on waiting lists.

Monday, August 1, is National Minority Donor Awareness Day to encourage greater donor enrollment among all racial and ethnic groups and highlight the acute need for organ transplants among minorities, who make up 50 percent of those on the national waiting lists.

"Residents of New York State make up approximately 10 percent of the entire national waiting list for organ transplants, and every day approximately 18 people die in this country waiting for a transplant," said Dr. Shah. "Currently 2.5 million New Yorkers are enrolled in the State's Donor Registry, but we know there are many more New Yorkers who would be willing to give the gift of life upon their deaths."

The New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry – called the Donate Life Registry – is a confidential, computerized registry that records an individual's consent to donate their organs and tissues upon their death. The listing can only be accessed at the time of death by a federally-approved organ procurement organization and licensed eye and tissue banks.

Dr. Shah announced that under new leadership in the State Health Department and the Governor's Office, the state is joining with its partners at the federal and local levels to strengthen and improve efforts to increase enrollment in the donor registry. Planned activities include efforts to create a system for online enrollment using a secure electronic signature.

Jaime Torres, Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said: "Donation reminds us of how connected we are through blood, tissue and organs. People of all ages and ethnicities can save and enhance lives through organ, eye and tissue donation. HHS and health advocates across the country are observing National Minority Donor Awareness Day by calling attention to the need for organ, eye and tissue donors from minority populations."

Michelle Davis, HHS Regional Health Administrator, said: "Due to high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, African Americans and other minorities require organ transplants at higher rates than that of other ethnic groups. By becoming a donor you can help decrease disparities within communities of color."

Barbara Fiala, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, said: "The Department of Motor Vehicles is pleased to partner with the Department of Health and others gathered here today to help raise awareness throughout the state about the importance of organ donation. "Currently, the majority of New Yorkers who sign up on the Registry do so by signing the donation box on their driver's license or non-driver ID card application or renewal form. We will continue our efforts to remind the public that signing up is simple and could be lifesaving."

New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said: "One of the greatest attributes of New York City is its diversity. However, many of our residents from minority groups suffer from illnesses that require organ transplants. This means there is a great need for organ donors, especially among our minority population. I encourage everyone who intends to be a donor to register. No matter what your skin color, the language you speak at home, or what country you were born in, register to be an organ donor today."

Kenneth Raske, President and CEO, Greater New York Hospital Association, said: "This critically important push to encourage organ donation could enable New York's world class hospital transplant departments and surgeons to help thousands more patients who desperately need organs. New York lags behind far too many states in terms of the number of available organs for transplanting, so we strongly urge more New Yorkers to consent to donate their organs."

Elaine Berg, President and CEO, New York Organ Donor Network, said: "On behalf of the New York Organ Donor Network and the New York State Alliance on Donation, I commend Commissioner Shah and other federal, state and city officials for partnering with the recovery organizations to address the shortage of organs for life saving organ transplant. We are at a critical time in the history of organ, eye and tissue donation. New Yorkers are proud and generous people. Together we can save more lives and prevent needless deaths."