Cultivating an award-winning workplace, with a mission to save and enhance lives, takes a leader who is able to adapt, be compassionate, and grow along with the company itself.
Barry Massa, executive director with LifeCenter Organ Donor Network, one of 57 federally designated organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States, and one of four in Ohio, has led the company for 14 of his 18-year tenure.
LifeCenter is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1981, with the mission to save, heal, and change live through organ, eye, and tissue donation, while honoring those who gave. The organization serves 2.1 million people across 16 counties in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.
Massa was originally drawn to the mission because of a friend’s daughter who needed a heart and lung transplant. Talking to individuals affected by donation, whether donor families or recipients, many of whom become Ambassadors for LifeCenter, motivates him.
“When you hear the stories of families … that’s what wakes you up every morning,” Massa said.
In June, Massa was named the new president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO), the nonprofit association representing OPOs in the U.S. for 2022-2023. His leadership will be pivotal at a time when AOPO is pushing its goal of 50,000 annual organ transplants in 2026 Campaign, in addition to making organ transplantation more equitable.
Additionally, Massa was voted to the United Network for Organ Sharing and Organ Procurement Transplant Network Board of Directors. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is the contractual agency for the Organ Procurement Transplant Network (OPTN), a government entity that sets policy for organ transplantation, as well as maintains the organ donor waitlist.
At the June meeting, the OPTN Board approved eliminating race-based variables to calculations for those awaiting kidney transplants. Such a move will benefit African Americans waiting for a kidney transplant. While roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population is African American, African Americans represent 32 of those waiting for a kidney transplant.
The use of race-neutral variables will enable more African Americans to receive their life-saving kidney transplant, Massa explained.
Massa credits his ascension to AOPO president to collaboration and the relationship-building he’s done over the years.
If Massa had a mantra, it might be, “Together we grow,” and Massa has never shied away from learning best practices from other OPOs to implement at LifeCenter.
“We learn from others, and some learn from us, too,” he said.
Locally, Massa also serves on the Community Advisory Board for Hoxworth Blood Center. He has served on numerous committees and councils for AOPO, UNOS/OPTN, as well as other donation-related organizations.
Since assuming leadership of LifeCenter on June 1, 2008, Massa has focused equally on its people and its mission. LifeCenter has regularly been named one of the Top Workplaces.
Jeannie Kuhn, community relations manager, said Massa’s leadership promotes a culture that is employee-centered.
“LifeCenter is a place where there is consistent staff appreciation, recognition, and celebration of organization-wide efforts to further our mission/vision in the community, so we can help save more lives,” she said.
Massa said he thinks of leadership as being a servant leader. He is not a micromanager by “any stretch of the imagination.”
“You hire people and let them do their job, but I also make sure that I take the time to interact and talk with all of our team members and get to know them – I’ve had this said to me a ton of times – that people appreciate the fact that I get up and walk around and that I know everyone’s name,” he said.
When Massa first became executive director, the company had 58 employees. Even though other companies are struggling coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, LifeCenter has added employees, exceeding the “magic number” of 100 employees earlier this year, Shawna Shouse, with Human Resources, said.
Part of the company’s success with employees has been to increase tenure, going from role turnover after a year and a half, to now people have been in those roles for over 10 years.
The most important measurement of growth at LifeCenter, though, is the number of lives being saved through the donation of organs, eyes, and tissues. In 2008, there were 31 organ donors, with 93 total organs transplanted. By 2021, even amid a pandemic, there were 100 donors, and 305 organs transplanted. Furthermore, over the past 10 years, tissue donation has risen 47 percent to 678 tissue donors in 2021, and eye donation increased 31 percent to 1,131 cornea donors in 2021.
The growth in donation is a result of the improved relationships developed during Massa’s leadership tenure. Those relationships cover the 34 donor hospitals in LifeCenter’s donation service area, including the three transplant centers – Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, The Christ Hospital Health Network, and University of Cincinnati Medical Center – hospitals, free standing emergency departments, and a number of rehab and long-term care facilities.
LifeCenter also works with funeral homes and all of the coroners in its 16 county service area to facilitate the donation process. Additionally, LifeCenter works with four Fire/EMS systems for direct scene referrals for potential donation.
Massa said LifeCenter’s relationships with its tissue processors, transplant centers, surgeons, and coroners, are “night and day” different from when he took over.
Something that is also relatively new, and adding to lives saved, is organs recovered from donation after circulatory death (DCD). In 2011, there were only four such DCDs. By 2021, there were 31.
Joel Chase, assistant director of organ recovery, explained that there has been a change among the transplant centers about thoracic organs (heart and lungs), and Hepatitis C patients. He said patients can receive an organ that has Hepatitis C, and then the patient is treated for the infection.
The mentality has also changed on DCDs because of evidence-based analysis, and the success seen through outcomes of those receiving organs from DCD donors, both locally and nationally.
Another key factor to the growth in donation is the community outreach. LifeCenter went from an organization that did not do marketing, to extensive marketing, education and outreach to increase the number of people who register as organ, eye, and tissue donors.
The areas in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana that LifeCenter serves have some of the highest registration rates in their respective states.
A special focus has also occurred with LifeCenter’s communities of color to tell truths about donation in order to begin to overcome long-standing distrust of the healthcare system. This has included education panels at the Greater Cincinnati Islamic Center and other faith communities.
One of the other important ways LifeCenter has grown most recently under Massa’s leadership is the development of the Family Aftercare Department to provide support and guidance for donor families following the loss of their loved one.
“LifeCenter leadership saw the need for dedicated Family Aftercare staff and began the program in mid-2017. [This team is] dedicated to supporting donor families and honoring their loved ones,” Katie Wright, Family Aftercare coordinator, said.
LifeCenter always goes one step further in what it can do, however. Wright explained that in 2018, a Donor Family Council was formed to offer feedback and suggestions for better supporting the families. New touchpoints — ways of reaching community members — have been added each year, including a Virtual Donor Remembrance event.
Aftercare is a microcosm of LifeCenter itself over the same timeframe: Growing, and growing in a compassion-centric way.
Massa said he was taught early on that the, “This is how we’ve always done it way of thinking,” is not the right mentality to have.
Adding new employees, and growing the LifeCenter footprint, is possible due to a strong financial picture. LifeCenter’s Unrestricted Net Assets has grown from slightly over $800,000 in 2010 to nearly $24 million at the end of 2021.
LifeCenter’s annual budget in 2010 was slightly above $8 million, in comparison to 2022’s budget, which was over $21 million.
Valerie Ruiz, manager of Hospital and Family Services, said Massa’s leadership, strong partnerships, and learning from what other OPOs do, has helped to increase donation.
Ruiz said Massa believes that innovation is at the core of what LifeCenter does, and working to continually build on best practices.
“Change is inevitable, so you have to be okay with being uncomfortable at times in order to continue to improve,” Massa said.
Growing, adapting, and bettering the organization’s practices goes toward the mission of saving and enhancing lives, and honoring those who gave. That’s what drives Massa and everyone at LifeCenter.
“Literally we’re saving lives,” Massa said.
To learn more about LifeCenter, and to register to be a donor, please visit lifepassiton.org.