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Nurse sends unused medical supplies to needy nations


Specializes in CCU, Geriatrics, Critical Care, Tele. Has 26 years experience.

The Stuff Hospitals Throw Away

Hospitals throw out millions of dollars worth of unused medical supplies every year, for a number of reasons - for instance, because they're outdated.

Nonprofit groups are collecting the supplies and shipping them to developing countries. But tons of items still wind up in landfills. As part of a collaboration with Northeast stations, Josie Huang of Maine Public Radio reports.

For more than 30 years Elizabeth McLellan has been a nurse and she still can't get over how many perfectly good items hospitals discard. She recalls how one hospital switched to a new type of catheter, and no longer wanted the old kind.

McLellan: "And they were going to throw it all away, probably about $5,000 worth of supplies were going to be thrown away in the trash."

McLellan couldn't let such supplies go to waste. So she started a non-profit that collects unwanted inventory from hospitals in Maine to send to clinics in developing countries.

McLellan: "I think there's a light switch over here somewhere. This is the dining room."

McLellan has filled several rooms in her own home with bags stuffed with hospital supplies in their original packaging.

McLellan:"Sterile syringes, diabetic syringes, insulin syringes, gloves, alcohol swabs, everything you could possibly imagine."

McLellan says hospitals throw out these items that were once in a patient's room because of strict infection-control protocols. They're required for hospital accreditation.

Full Story: http://www.nhpr.org/node/27737

I take unused supplies to Central America every time I go there. On a small island in Belize, they actually wash out their gauze, soak it in bleach, then re-use it. Same with gloves.

In the small ED I worked in, we would open a suture kit, take out a few things, and toss the rest into a bin, labeled Belize. Each time I went, I would have a suitcase packed full of things for the clinic. They are so appreciative of these supplies, and usually it was easy to get past customs. Only once were we questioned in detail as to what we were doing with these. I applaud everyone who gets involved with this type of effort. We are so fortunate in our country to have what we have. It is amazing what others do with out, that we take for granted.

Purple_Scrubs, BSN, RN

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 8 years experience.

Surely this could be organized on a national level. How about requiring this kind of "recycling" for a hospital's accreditation (yeah right!) If there are people who could be benefiting from these items, yet we take up space in our land fills with them, we are doing double damage.

Walden-Puddle, RN

Specializes in Operating Room and Telemetry. Has 9 years experience.

Check out www.medshare.org.

I'm a regular volunteer there and they do an AMAZING job of sorting and filling needs all over the world. And yes..we throw out an unconscionable amount of waste.

psalm, RN

Specializes in Staff nurse.

So some of these items were in a room of a patient who was in isolation? That would not be safe.

But for items in pt. rooms who weren't in isolation, I say, great, do it!

CityKat, BSN, RN

Specializes in Trauma.

So some of these items were in a room of a patient who was in isolation? That would not be safe.

Wouldn't it depend what type of isolation? If the stuff is "unused and unopened"...

I believe it is a fabalous idea. And Nursing schools are just as guilty of this too. I understand that we need practice using this stuff but especially when we just practice opening countless packages of stuff, and then throw it away. It is totally pointless.

psalm, RN

Specializes in Staff nurse.

Might be unused and unopened but if it were in a contact isolation room and moved around or even on the bed (say, an extra foley cath pkg in case first one not inserted correctly) the packaging may have come in contact with fluids...

I agree. I have a problem with us sending expired hospital supplies to underdeveloped nations. That's just plain wrong.

Walden-Puddle, RN

Specializes in Operating Room and Telemetry. Has 9 years experience.

Can't speak for other organizations, but www.medshare.org does extensive sorting to weed out short-dated and expired goods.

Although some of the expiration dates are arbitrary, others are not. And it can be the difference between people in some countries using pieces of straw for sutures, or using "expired" sutures, but still in sterile packing etc. Also, some (many) items that we throw away can be resterilized numerous times, which is just simply not the practice here in the states, but not only practical, but the only method practiced in some poorer countries.

Also, some countries have customs policies that will not allow the importation of expired medical supplies. Some do allow it and are grateful to get them because the alternatives are FAR worse.

I agree with the other posters about items that may have come in contact with fluids or isolated patients etc. although this should be the difference between items going for recycling and items that SHOULD be placed in biohazard bags for disposal/incineration.

The time between collection, sorting, shipping, arrival and eventual use in many cases can be months to years, so it is unlikely that any biohazard remains as most organisms can't live outside the body for that long. Maybe there are a few that can?

I agree. I have a problem with us sending expired hospital supplies to underdeveloped nations. That's just plain wrong.

Well, when you think of the alternative for this countries you realize that it's actually God sent for them. My partner went to Africa last summer and it is amazing how little supplies they have. You know the disposable stethoscopes that we use in the iso rooms. They are so easy to clean and they are so much better than anything they can afford in some places in Africa.

labrador4122, RN

Specializes in Tele.

it is an amazing idea. recycling should be required for accreditation


Specializes in Med/surg, telemetry, ICU. Has 2 years experience.

What a great idea! I am going to bring it up to the hosp. nsg director. Donating med. supplies has so many benefits. To think that we throw away so much while someone in a poor country is reusing bloody bandages or suturing with straws! Something is wrong with this picture.:nono:

Edited by nurseiam08


Specializes in Recovery (PACU)-11 yrs, General-13yrs. Has 23 years experience.

We have had a "Third World Box" for years for newly expired stock, not just drugs, but airways etc etc that are 'not good enough for us' (I have a huge problem with this-why are we so special?) but anyway, every so often it is mysteriously emptied, and we start again! It has become second nature for everyone to look for the "Box"

A few of our surgeons and anaesthetists take annual trips to Fiji, India, China, or where-ever their heart takes them for a couple of weeks of operating, and often their scrub nurses go with them. I believe their luggage is quite interesting at times.

Management knows, and colludes!

tewdles, RN

Specializes in PICU, NICU, L&D, Public Health, Hospice. Has 31 years experience.

this sort of "mission" goes on in doctors offices, clinics, and hospitals all over the country. I don't know about you, but I am proud of our ingenuity in the face of waste. America is a wonderful country filled with wonderful people.

Excellent idea. I hope it continues to progress and in the long run benefit every country you help out :)

CapeCodMermaid, RN

Specializes in Gerontology, Med surg, Home Health. Has 30 years experience.

Why can't we do this with un used (not outdated) medications? We used to send our discontinued meds to the homeless shelter with one of the nurse practitioners. Now all of us in LTC are scared to death we'll get cited by the DPH. Every month I throw away hundreds of dollars worth of perfectly good medications. I have written to the governor, my senator, and the President and no one has given me an answer.