Leftover Medical Supplies Recycled to Developing Countries

Millions of dollars worth of unused medical supplies finding their way to developing countries.  Millions of dollars worth of medical supplies are discarded by American hospitals every year, and veteran nurse Elizabeth McLellan is doing something about it.  Portland, ME-based McLellan started a non-profit organization called Partners for World Health that gathers leftover supplies and ships them to clinics in developing countries like Haiti and Cambodia.  McLellan readily admits that her home is full of sterile syringes, diabetic syringes, insulin syringes, gloves and alcohol swabs – most still in their original packaging.  According to McLellan, hospitals regularly discard items that once were in a patient’s room – even if they were not used – because of strict rules governing infection control.

Sometimes, supplies are thrown out because they become outdated before they can be used, says Don Hancock, vice president with Premier, a firm that negotiates bulk purchases for hospitals.  “Maybe you have invested in some inventory with a physician who is no longer with you, or maybe there is a new procedure that came out that can supersede an old procedure, and you no longer need the supplies for that old procedure,” according to Hancock.

Dr. William Rosenblatt of the Yale School of Medicine points out that waste can result from caution during medical procedures, and that leftover items can amount to $100 per surgery.  “If I was a patient in the operating room, I would want to know that the surgeon has immediately available not just what is going to be needed for my procedure, but also materials that are there just in case,” said Rosenblatt, who started REMEDY, one of the nation’s first medical supply recovery programs during the early 1980s.

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