BOSTON (CBS) – It happens for a variety of reasons – working medical equipment scrapped when newer models are bought, strict infection control rules that result in perfectly usable stuff being tossed.
Whatever the reason, it’s enough to make you shake your head and say – what a waste: an estimated $760 billion in medical supplies that financially-strapped hospitals and clinics here and abroad desperately need, tossed in the trash each year, a chronic problem spotlighted by the investigative website Pro Publica.
A possible answer is in progress in a warehouse near Portland, Maine, piled high with millions of dollars worth of ready-to-use medical supplies. An unremarkable sight, until visitors realize everything there was rescued from the trash.
Visitors to the facility run by the non-profit Partners for World Health (PFWH) are “just incredulous over the fact that so much of this material is being thrown out and wasted,” says Dr. Hector Tarraza of the Maine Medical Center in a PFWH video. “And the reality of it is it doesn’t need to be, it really doesn’t.”
For the past eight years, PFWH has collected, sorted and shipped these supplies to healthcare facilities in need. Says Elizabeth McLellan, founder of the group, in a Red Cross video honoring her work: “After we sort and organize all these items, we’re helping those who are less fortunate than we are, this is a win-win. This lowers our healthcare costs, prevents an impact on our environment, and at the same time helps people that are in need.”
But while the group’s website reports donations from dozens of hospitals in Maine, only five hospitals in Massachusetts – Anna Jacques Hospital, Dana Farber Home Care, Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Shriner’s Hospital and South Shore Hospital – are listed as supply donors. (Also listed: three academic facilities, Boston College, Northeastern University and Tufts Medical School.) A PFWH spokesperson says they often receive supply donations from individuals here, but partnerships with major hospitals apparently remains a work in progress.
We reached out to the Massachusetts Hospital Association for comment, and here’s the statement they sent us:
“The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association and our member health systems, hospitals, and other care providers work diligently with our communities to protect and improve public health. Many Massachusetts hospitals and health systems are already working on various strategies to reduce their carbon footprint and develop wellness and prevention programs for their patients, workers, and communities. MHA works with our members to coordinate some of these efforts, including the healing inside and out: Tobacco-free hospitals project and the resources provided on the MHA Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) Website. MHA’s healing inside and out: Tobacco-free hospitals initiative provides a one-stop online resource to assist hospitals in the commonwealth to eliminate tobacco completely from their campuses and, in some instances, to develop a tobacco-free workforce. Through HHI, hospitals were provided with best practices to advance environmental sustainability.”
Not a word about medical supply waste.
Are you seeing something that makes you think – what a waste? I want to hear about it. Reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll take a hard look at it.