The donation of no-longer-needed equipment and supplies can appear as a win-win solution, but like other sustainability initiatives, a scratch on the surface may reveal a brown color underneath a green veneer.
On a recent trip to Haiti, Bruce Compton, senior outreach coordinator for the Catholic Health Association, found that three of the four hospitals he visited had X-ray equipment sitting unused in the waiting room. The unused equipment would not benefit any patient—not then, not ever. The equipment had been donated by well-intentioned healthcare facilities in the United States. The best of intentions can result in harm—toxic materials, excessive waste, and potential exposure to the community, not to mention a lot of manpower to get it from the donating hospital to the recipient.
Catholic Health Association’s April 2011 study “CHA Medical Surplus Donation Study: How Effective Surplus Donation Can Relieve Human Suffering” highlights the harsh reality that the majority of donated equipment and supplies go unused. The grant-funded report explains the complexity of the issue and calls for a closer look and action around responsible donation to ensure safety, environmental benefit, and value to all parties. This is the first step in identifying a solution so that best intentions result in successful donation and reuse.
Hospitals, long-term care facilities, private practices, and manufacturers can be excellent sources of equipment and supplies, usually due to upgrades, renovations, and moves. Equipment donation appears to help hospitals do the right thing, improve environmental impact, and avoid hefty waste fees. Many hospitals have set lofty recycling and diversion goals, and strive for top honors through award programs like Practice Greenhealth’s Environmental Excellence Awards.
Achieving high recycling rates may look good on a sustainability report or award application, but responsible donors have done due diligence and taken a hard look at their equipment, supplies, and internal process. They have a written assessment protocol, staff training, and documentation to support and track donation with an experienced medical supply and recovery organization (MSRO). These facilities have leadership support and understanding that donation of equipment is a community benefit and mission demonstration. If its value is cost savings alone, then those driving the work may donate broken, expired, or outdated equipment—good for the bottom line as well as for recycling and diversion rates, but bad for the environment and not helpful to those in need of quality product.
Sixty percent of the hospitals surveyed in CHA’s study reported donating broken equipment.