Unity Health offers full paid leave for employees who become living organ donors

March 11, 2021

By Hayley Mick

Employees of Unity Health Toronto are now eligible for full paid leave for up to 13 weeks after the network adopted a policy to address this significant financial barrier to live organ donation.

The policy, announced on World Kidney Day, makes Unity Health one of the only employers in Canada to offer full paid leave for this life-transforming decision, at a time when living donation across the country is on the decline.

The policy applies to any full-time employee who undergoes surgery to donate all or part of one of the following organs to another person, including kidney, liver, lung or pancreas. Employees will receive 100 per cent of their normal pay for up to 13 weeks, plus benefits coverage, for the purpose of donating all or part of a designated organ(s) to another person. The paid leave can be extended for medical reasons.

“Unity Health has taken a leadership position on this and is a role model to other employers. I hope other employers follow suit. The more we can do to remove barriers to organ donation, the better for our patients and the broader population,” said Jonathan Fetros, Senior Clinical Program Director of the hospital’s Kidney and Metabolism Program at St. Michael’s Hospital.

Living donor kidney transplantation is considered to be the optimal replacement treatment for patients with end stage kidney disease. It provides patients with a better quality of life and improves life expectancy compared to those on dialysis. From a health economics perspective one living kidney donor transplant is approximately a net healthcare saving of $100,000 compared to a patient on hemodialysis.

Yet, living donation for kidneys has remained stable over the past decade, and declined for other organs in recent years.

Dr. Ramesh Prasad, a staff physician who specializes in Nephrology and Medical Director of the Kidney Transplant Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, says one of the major barriers faced by potential living donors when deciding to donate is anticipated financial hardship. That’s why he, along with Jonathan Fetros, worked with Unity Health’s Senior Director of Human Resources, Manson Locke, to get the new policy in place.

“It’s possible some living donor kidney transplants are not happening because of the financial and work constraints that the surgery imposes. Removing these barriers to allow the fullest time possible for the donor to recover from their surgery, and at the same time not undergo any economic hardship, may help improve living donation rates,” Dr. Prasad said.

It takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks for a living kidney donor to recover post-surgery. Many use their vacation or unpaid leave absences during this time period.

Ontario provides job protected leave for all employees in the province for a period of up to thirteen (13) weeks to be a living organ donor.  During this time an employees is placed on an unpaid leave of absence and all salary payments cease.  The employee becomes individually accountable for the reimbursement of their share of the health and dental and pension benefits that they must maintain during this period.

With this change, Unity Health will earn recognition from the new Living Donor Circle of Excellence program of the Canadian Society of Transplantation that celebrates employers who implement internal policies that provide salary support to their employees who choose to be a living organ donor.

By participating in the Living Donor Circle of Excellence Program and implementing a paid leave policy for organ donation, Unity Health Toronto can be a leader in demonstrating the unique and critical that living organ donation plays in our society while better supporting staff that chooses to donate their organs to those in need.

“We hope to inspire other institutions to follow our example. It’s best these policies are put in place before one of their employees already decides to become a donor and undergo hardship, because putting policies in place takes time,” Dr. Prasad said.

For Media inquiries: Communications@unityhealth.to