MEDSHARE: MEDICAL SUPPLIER TO THE NEEDY
BY STAS MARGARONIS
MedShare is an Atlanta based non-profit that provides medical equipment and basic supplies such as gauze, bandages, syringes, etc. to countries in need. Most recently, MedShare sent 30 containers to West Africa as part of a support effort to combat the Ebola virus. Last week, a collaboration of Rotarians from Santa Rosa, California and Santiago, Chile funded a 20 foot container of medical supplies destined for needy clinics in Chile.
MEDICAL SHIPMENT TO CHILE
In January, Andrew Pines, executive director for MedShare’s Western Region located in San Leandro, California, led California Rotarians on a tour of the San Leandro facility. A collaboration of Rotarians from Santa Rosa, California and Santiago, Chile funded a 20 foot container of medical supplies destined for needy clinics in Chile.
The participants watched as the last pallets of medical supplies were being loaded into the container that was to be trucked to the Port of Oakland and loaded onto a container ship bound for Chile. There, the container will be unloaded and trucked to a group of clinic locations including the town of Lampa, Chile. Rotarians from the Reina Alta Rotary Club in Santiago, Chile will be supervising the transportation and distribution of the medical supplies and equipment.
The effort was initiated by Vladimir Salvo, representing the Santiago Rotary Club, who visited California in 2014 and enlisted the support of Ann McGinley, a Rotary lieutenant governor based in Santa Rosa, California. McGinley raised money from Sonoma County Rotarians to finance the American share of the donation, while Salvo coordinated Chilean donations. The two sides financed collection and transportation costs needed by MedShare to collect, fill and ship the container of medical supplies to Chile. The container departed for Chile on January 8th.
Andrew Pines recently took over as executive director of MedShare’s Western Region facility at San Leandro. Previously, he worked as an investment banker for Citigroup in San Francisco, California. While still working in healthcare investment banking, Pines joined MedShare’s National Board and Western Council. He left banking and moved into a staff role only nine months ago.
Pines told RBTUS that he was inspired by how MedShare worked with healthcare organizations, suppliers and equipment makers to divert new and serviceable equipment to clinics and hospitals around the world to extend outreach and upgrade healthcare for patients in less wealthy countries. He saw MedShare’s potential for “operating leverage” by which the organization takes a shipping and handling donation of $25,000 and turns it into a forty-foot container with goods valued at$175,000, a value even higher in many parts of the world where quality medical supplies are scarce.
7 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR IN U.S.MEDICAL WASTE
Pines says that there is “7 billion dollars annually of surplus medical supplies and equipment in the United States that is thrown away as garbage to be deposited in landfills.” MedShare has made it its mission to divert some of these unused supplies into shipments that help foreign clinics, hospitals and patients such as those in Chile. The reason the United States healthcare industry wastes so much is “because we can”, Pines says.
He cites some examples:
1) Surgeries in which doctors and nurses “bust open a kit of 30 items but only use 3 items and then throw away the remaining 27 items which are perfectly usable, perfectly safe, are within expiration dates and have been paid for by the patient but are still going to be thrown away.”
2) When a hospital system upgrades its biomedical equipment, in some cases the dealer picks up the prior model with the intention of destroying the old model, in order to avoid risking it depressing prices on the secondary market. In one particular case, Pines recalled, MedShare learned from one of its participating hospital systems that a manufacturer was intending to pulverize several very high-value machines even though they were perfectly usable. Together, MedShare and the hospital system, the dealer’s client, were able to persuade the dealer to donate the machines to MedShare instead of pulverizing them. MedShare in turn was able to ship them to countries where their very presence enabled the recipient to perform life-saving surgeries it would not otherwise have been able to perform.
3) Many hospitals in the U.S. in recent years moved from IV stands with a 4-pronged or 5-pronged base to a 6-pronged base, Pines notes. Pines says that there may be a good reason to have made the change but “from a common sense standpoint, it is hard to understand how much safer it is using 6 prongs as opposed to using 5 or 4.” In the case of donor/clients around the world, the surplus of 4- and 5-pronged IV pedestals is a welcome donation.
As a Citigroup investment banker, Pines saw many similar examples of waste that he felt could have been avoided. He notes that nurses and doctors at hospitals have been key to identifying quality supplies and equipment that can have a second life as a medical donation rather than as landfill.
Last year, Pines noted, 300 tons of surplus equipment and supplies were saved from going to Northern California landfills as a result of donations to MedShare’s San Leandro warehouse.
CRITICAL ROLE OF VOLUNTEERS
MedShare, working with doctors and nurses, has set up networks of donation barrels next to hospital loading docks, emergency rooms and operating rooms for medical personnel to deposit surplus medical supplies. MedShare focuses on hospital contributions in the Atlanta, Georgia area for its Southeastern Region, the San Francisco Bay Area for its Western Region, and a third emerging region in the New York City metropolitan area.
Pines says that MedShare picks up supplies within 100-150 miles of their main warehouses: “We have trucks that go to the hospitals and pick up the supplies and put in a new (barrel) liner for future deposits.” In Northern California, the trucks do pickups in San Francisco, Alameda County and other East Bay communities, Sacramento and several South Bay communities such as Mountain View and Santa Cruz.”
Once the supplies are collected, volunteers work 5 days a week to sort the equipment and supplies, discard defective and expired items and count and label the contents in order to enable MedShare’s staff to barcode and uniquely identify the items among the nearly 20,000 different items of medical supplies that MedShare maintains on its online ordering system.
The recruitment of volunteers for this effort is an ongoing activity of the warehouse operations. There are a number of regular company supporters that include Rotary Clubs. The promotion and recruitment of volunteers through service organizations and corporations is a major activity of MedShare.
Fifteen years ago, MedShare was founded by A.B. Short, an Atlanta-based “serial do-gooder”, as Pines calls him, who started an organic farm, a restaurant for the homeless and a food bank. With no medical background, he asked the basic question, why can’t we replicate the food bank for all these surplus medical supplies?
Short recruited a team of Georgia philanthropists and in short order attracted the interest of two well-known Atlanta-based companies that do business around the world, Kimberly-Clark and Coca-Cola (via The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation), to provide financial support as well. Kimberly-Clark, a manufacturer of medical supplies such as diapers, gloves and gowns, provides donations to MedShare’s clients abroad. A third supporter was Henry Schein which manufactures numerous types of diagnostic and other equipment.
Short and MedShare’s initial founders also worked with key local health systems such as Emory Healthcare and other Atlanta-based healthcare organizations in order to source product donations.
Pines noted that a key player in MedShare’s early success was the decision by Short to seek the counsel of Dr. William Foege, then the head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. It was Foege who impressed upon Short the need to identify from client healthcare providers abroad what their specific needs were in terms of supply and equipment. Foege impressed upon Short the need to avoid dumping U.S. medical supplies onto another country and their medical institutions. Foege impressed Short on the need for MedShare to listen to the needs of the recipient.
In the case of the medical shipment to Chile, Chilean health professionals reviewed MedShare’s online inventory of supplies and equipment and ordered items specifically needed for the Chilean clinics.
The average container shipped abroad is a 40-foot container that contains up to 1,000 boxes of supplies and 20-30 pieces of medical equipment with an average value of $175,000. Due to shortages in foreign countries, the value of the shipments can be much higher, Pines noted. MedShare asks for a donation of $25,000 to cover the costs of sorting and transporting a 40 foot container: “The result is that we tell our donors that a $25,000 donation gets them a $175,000 shipment or a seven-fold value for their donated dollars.”
At MedShare’s San Leandro warehouse, Rene Steinkellner is the unsung heroine who Pines describes as being “the one irreplaceable member of our team.” Steinkellner, a 22-year U.S. Army veteran, is now the biomedical engineer who supervises the repair and selection of equipment to donors. She also provides operating manuals for recipients. Recipients interact with Steinkellner or her counterpart in Atlanta to request specific pieces of equipment.
Steinkellner also interfaces with manufacturers in procuring donations, assesses and repairs the equipment and adapts machines to the electric currents and voltages of the recipient. She operates special equipment for testing and repair.