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Turning Medical Discards Into Life-Saving Treasures

Tue, 03/02/2010 - 12:43pm

By Holly Frew, MedShare

Eva Trepanier empties a large black garbage bag full of medical items on a table. After four years of volunteering at MedShare, she’s still amazed at the amount of medical supplies collected each week from Atlanta-area hospitals.

Hospital staff discard supplies and used medical supplies in MedShare collection bins at their facility.

Eva Trepanier empties a large black garbage bag full of medical items on a table. After four years of volunteering at MedShare, she’s still amazed at the amount of medical supplies collected each week from Atlanta-area hospitals.

Piled up on the table are items ranging from sterile syringes and sutures to surgical steel instruments and drapes. These are surplus medical supplies that would be destined for a landfill, but instead are recovered by MedShare, a nonprofit whose recovery efforts not only improve the environment, but also provide quality healthcare to developing countries across the globe.

Thousands of pounds of surplus medical supplies are recovered and brought to MedShare Distribution Centers in Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area. The supplies are sorted, packed in boxes and shipped in 40' containers to needy healthcare recipients around the world.

“In countries where medical care is limited, simple things like surgical gloves are washed and reused until there are holes in them, where in the U.S., supplies like that are in abundance. Instead of throwing those supplies away, MedShare allows hospitals to give those supplies to someone who desperately needs them,” says A.B. Short, co-founder and CEO of MedShare.

Under MedShare’s Supply Recovery Program, hospitals donate their unused, unexpired surplus medical supplies and used equipment, thus providing them an environmentally-responsible way to discard these items. MedShare conducts onsite training to participating hospitals to educate them on acceptable donation items. 

Surplus medical supplies are recovered and shipped to recipients in countries where medical care is limited.

Under MedShare’s Supply Recovery Program, hospitals donate their unused, unexpired surplus medical supplies and used equipment, thus providing them an environmentally-responsible way to discard these items. MedShare conducts onsite training to participating hospitals to educate them on acceptable donation items. 

“Our partnership with MedShare is an important component of our go green initiative to reduce, reuse and recycle throughout our Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region facilities," says Tim Twomey, Regional Director for Supply Chain Services. “Safety regulations meant to protect our patients preclude our clinical staff from using many medical supplies, so we are delighted to partner with an organization like MedShare to make these supplies available in other countries.”

Donation bins are provided for the hospitals to place in various departments, and then MedShare collects donated supplies on a weekly or sometimes bi-monthly basis. Each week, MedShare collects an average 2,000 lbs. of supplies from participating hospitals in Metro Atlanta and Northern California. They also accept donations from medical manufacturers and companies throughout the U.S.
Once the supplies arrive at MedShare, trained volunteers sort and repackage the supplies. The supplies are then entered into an online inventory database, where approved healthcare recipients across the globe can order their facilities’ needed supplies.

“Our use of an online inventory is what sets MedShare apart. We allow the recipient to custom order the medical supplies it needs in its shipment, rather than just shipping what we have. This further reduces any waste on the recipient side,” says Short. Trained volunteers at MedShare sort and repackage supplies to be distributed across the globe.

“Our use of an online inventory is what sets MedShare apart. We allow the recipient to custom order the medical supplies it needs in its shipment, rather than just shipping what we have. This further reduces any waste on the recipient side,” says Short.

The efficiency of MedShare’s operations is dependent upon volunteers to sort and repackage donated supplies before they are inventoried. Often participating hospitals, such as Emory Healthcare, will send medical staff to MedShare to volunteer for sorting sessions. 

“In addition to donating products, we have a focused partnership to provide MedShare volunteer opportunities to our employers and their friends and families. This type of employee-family engagement gives our staff a way to make an impact on the environment and on public health,” says David Pugh, associate administrator for support services at Emory Healthcare.

In MedShare’s 10 years of operation, they have shipped over 500 forty-foot containers of medical supplies and equipment to 80 countries. This accounts for over one million cubic feet of landfill space saved. In 2008, their supply and recovery efforts saved approximately 535,000 lbs. of CO2, equal to almost 554,000 miles driven.

Medical surplus recovery services are not unique to MedShare, but they are regarded as one of the leading medical surplus recovery organizations. An alliance of similar nonprofits was spearheaded by MedShare in 2008 called the MedSurplus Network. The Network formed with members from four other medical surplus recovery organizations across the country, with membership growing.  In MedShare’s 10 years of operation, they have shipped over 500 forty-foot containers of medical supplies and equipment to 80 countries.

Medical surplus recovery services are not unique to MedShare, but they are regarded as one of the leading medical surplus recovery organizations. An alliance of similar nonprofits was spearheaded by MedShare in 2008 called the MedSurplus Network. The Network formed with members from four other medical surplus recovery organizations across the country, with membership growing. 

“The purpose of the MedSurplus Network is to nurture a strong community of member organizations that encourage donations of surplus medical supplies and equipment for the purpose of improving healthcare around the world,” says Short, who also serves as Chair of the MedSurplus Network.

The Network establishes best standards and practices for medical supply and equipment donations, and strives to educate hospitals and the public about health disparities around the world. 

To learn more about medical surplus recovery, visit MedShare’s website at www.medshare.org.

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