Nell Diallo, MedShare's vice president of corporate and international relations.
-Photo Courtesy MedShare
Since it was founded in 1998, MedShare has donated nearly $55 million worth of medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and clinics in 72 countries around the world. This accomplishment was spearheaded from the organization’s one Atlanta office. “We have about 32 partner hospitals around the United States,” says Nell Diallo, MedShare’s vice president of corporate and international relations. “But the bulk of our donations currently comes from the metro Atlanta area.” With a second office soon opening in San Francisco, the non-profit’s global impact will continue to grow; longer-term plans call for additional offices in Illinois and Florida.
MedShare collects “surplus” medical supplies and equipment (not pharmaceuticals). What qualifies as surplus? “Let me give you an example,” says Diallo. “Let’s say you went for surgery in one of the hospitals in metro Atlanta and they decided that because of the nature of the surgery they needed ten items laid out in the room for your operation. Let’s say that during the operation they needed only eight of these items. The other two items are not used and are in fact still brand new, but those items in many instances for regulatory purposes cannot be used on another patient and would become discarded by the hospital.” MedShare works with hospitals to collect these items that would otherwise be discarded. Approximately 600 volunteers a month help process collections for needy facilities around the world.
One volunteer, Diane Keltz of Stone Mountain, works three hours every Wednesday for what she describes as fun rewards. “I feel good when I walk in the door and when I walk out of the door knowing I have accomplished something good,” she says. “To send these materials to third world countries that need this so much—that really makes me feel good about recycling.” In 2007, MedShare collected 141 tons of goods at an average of nine tons of usable goods each week. Volunteers spent over 19,000 hours evaluating, sorting, labeling, inventorying and preparing these goods for shipment.
MedShare is not the only organization in the nation to collect and redistribute medical supplies and equipment—others include Brother’s Brother Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in Springfield, Illinois; and Medical Bridges in Houston, Texas—but it is regarded as a leader in the field because of its unique sorting and ordering system. “We create an inventory list that’s accessible via password,” says Diallo. “It’s similar to ebay” in that folks can order specifically what they need.
Commonly needed items include “things like gloves, sutures, and basic materials needed by all hospitals,” says Diallo, who adds that she’s seen some healthcare providers hand wash and line dry latex gloves for re-use when they’re in short supply. Basic equipment like sonograms and imaging equipment are also in demand. While such equipment may have been previously used, a biomedical engineer on staff at MedShare ensures that all equipment is in workable condition before it’s sent out with an operation and service manual.
A total of 400 forty-foot containers have been shipped by MedShare to outfit over 900 medical teams. Recipients must meet pre-established qualification criteria. “First and foremost, they must be serving the needy,” says Diallo, “so no private hospitals or clinics—they have to be registered as a nonprofit. There are a number of checks and balances that we use.” Many MedShare recipients have a stateside association with a church or other organization that’s doing some international outreach; in addition, MedShare board members have visited many beneficiaries for first-hand authentication.
“All around it’s a good business decision,” says Debra Bloom of Emory Healthcare’s partnership with MedShare. “It’s a great environmental decision that keeps extra supplies out of the landfill. And employees have a lot of pride knowing that surplus medical supplies and equipment are set aside to help clinics and patients who badly need them. It touches people’s lives, both employees and the folks on the receiving end.”
“MedShare really is a win-win,” says Diallo. Recalling a group of doctors visiting the MedShare warehouse from the Ukraine, Diallo describes one doctor who “walked in and burst out crying. That reaction is one that I frequently get from visitors. They cannot believe the unused medical supplies donated in the quantities that we are shipping.” Yet MedShare is committed to a double mission: “We not only aid needy institutions,” says Diallo. “We are also helping clean up the environment. What we’ve collected in the U.S. accounts for over one million cubic feet of space saved from landfills or incinerators which pollutes our own environment.”
For more information about MedShare, ask about how to donate funds or to sign up as a volunteer call 770-323-5858.