From trash to triage: Surplus saves lives

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Courtesy of Security Shredding & Storage News

The sheer volume of medical surplus that can collect in a healthcare facility’s basement or storage space can be jaw-dropping. Storage space in most healthcare facilities is very limited. In these premium spaces, the accumulation of surplus medical supplies can easily grow out-of-hand. Thousands of useless IV poles, rendered obsolete by a new pump design, can choke walkways. Storage spaces can get flooded with unwanted equipment and pharmaceuticals. Mountains of outdated electronics can pile up to the ceiling. This kind of buildup can result in violations and substantial fines.

Space considerations aside, extra supplies are also costly to dispose of and cumbersome to manage. Disposal charges aren’t cheap at $700 and $800 per dumpster. Despite these high costs, over 2,000 tons of unused surgical supplies – the estimated equivalent of 200 million dollars – are thrown away every year.

While some healthcare facilities simply eat the high costs to keep the waste moving, others are taking a closer look and recognizing that improved methods of surplus management yield only positive results: cost reduction, regulatory compliance, a more organized facility, improved efficiency, and improved healthcare. Healthcare facilities across the nation are cleaning up and going green. In the process, they are saving more than just money – they’re saving lives. How? By putting unwanted, but useful, medical surplus back to work.

Healthcare providers know, better than anyone, that without sutures, needles, syringes or bandages, even basic medical treatment may not be possible. Yet simple, life-saving items often end up in the trash. We all know about recycling, the commonly embraced method for sweeping clean piles of medical surplus without taxing the landfill, but another disposal alternative, known as “medical recovery,” is earning the respect of healthcare facilities nationwide.

Let’s face it – surplus happens in the course of normal operations. For example, a nurse pulls out three double-wrapped sutures and removes the outer wrap, but uses only one. The remaining two (technically still sterile) sutures are now considered garbage according to US policy. They can, however, be used in other countries.

Healthcare facilities are becoming more interested in donating surplus items (from sutures to beds) rather than throwing them in the trash because it saves money, is more environmentally friendly than recycling or reuse, and because, though they are no longer considered useable in the US, surplus medical supplies can still help save lives. Most healthcare facilities simply don’t have the time, staff or systems in place to handle vast amounts of surplus. Recognizing the need and the commodity at hand, several companies are facilitating the recovery of unwanted medical surplus and putting them back to work in developing countries where people are literally dying every day for lack of even the most basic medical supplies.
Global Links and the Institution Recycling Network are two companies that function as middlemen between healthcare facilities in the US and facilities in countries like Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. These middleman companies and others like them are helping hospitals eliminate surplus and the problems that hover over dormant piles of medical surplus.

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