Surplus recovery organizations gather to consider formal collaboration

August 15, 2012


ATLANTA — During a mid-July meeting here, leaders of organizations that ship donated medical equipment to health care providers in the developing world took early steps toward creating a formal network aimed at increasing the efficiency, professionalism and supply chain systems expertise of the sector.

Medical surplus recovery organizations are the companies that collect surplus medical equipment from hospitals and health systems and coordinate the logistics to deliver those supplies to health care providers in the developing world.

In recent years, CHA has led an effort to increase the sophistication, reach and impact of a sector that began as a well-intentioned conduit for in-kind philanthropy, adding efficiency of scale by combining mission donations of individual hospitals.

CHA-commissioned research has demonstrated that donor hospitals that give large quantities of equipment and supplies benefit from using a medical surplus organization as an intermediary — rather than sending shipments of surplus goods directly to mission hospitals and clinics. Those big donors using surplus organizations are more likely to have their donations end up with a recipient who can put the goods to use. However, the industry is young and participants don't operate with uniform efficiency. A CHA report published in 2010 concluded that no industry-wide standards exist.

Bruce Compton, CHA's senior director of international outreach, said that a follow-up CHA report to be released later this year will identify best practices of hospitals that donate supplies and used equipment to health providers in emerging economies. Compton said the most effective donors are motivated by the intent to improve the health of patients rather than by the desire to dispose of items that have outlived their useful life in a U.S. facility. The best-in-class donors have collection protocols that assign specific staff members to identify items to be donated, and processes to assure no item is expired or can't be fixed or maintained in the field by the recipient, Compton said.

Well-functioning surplus organizations consolidate donations from various givers and ensure goods and equipment go where they are needed. An effective medical surplus recovery organization must have good communication and supportive, strong relationships with donors and recipients, according to Compton.

The 2012 report will list steps that hospitals can follow to tighten their donation protocols and to assess the operational and mission effectiveness of potential medical surplus recovery organization partners. Compton said, from a hospital's viewpoint, the best surplus recovery organization is the one that understands the inner workings of a hospital and its supply chain.

The conference in Atlanta July 16-17 was sponsored by the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations and funded by a Gerard Health Foundation grant to CHA. It brought together about 70 leaders of medical surplus recovery organizations.

The partnership is an alliance of nonprofits, drug companies and medical equipment makers that support a wide range of global health projects. It promotes quality standards and knowledge dissemination and works to influence policies that impact global health. Compton said a network of medical surplus recovery organizations might have a similar framework and goal.

Late last month, a few weeks after the Atlanta meeting, the partnership hosted a follow-up conference call on which representatives of surplus recovery organizations took another step in forging a network or formal linkage of their own. Call participants volunteered for three committees that will be looking at next steps including appropriate standards and assessment tools as well as the network's potential goals and objectives. Participants will convene again in October at the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations' educational forum in New York City.

As envisioned, the network would give secular and faith-based medical surplus recovery organizations a platform to better coordinate their work and share information.

Mark Koenig is system director of international mission at Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services. Providence operates a surplus recovery organization called Catholic Health United for Medical Assistance International in Lacey, Wash. Koenig said a surplus recovery organization must have an extensive knowledge of medical products, establish effective systems for logistics and warehousing, meet significant requirements for clearance of customs and maintain relationships of trust with recipients, or solicitors, of surplus.

"Having a formal network of MSROs who share common values and a commitment to doing this work in a responsible manner (would be) a bonus for everyone," he said.

Georgia Winson, executive director of Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in Springfield, Ill., a surplus recovery organization founded in 2002 by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, said many challenges face the surplus recovery industry. In addition to the aforementioned lack of standards of practice, it is hard to attract the attention of major funders. Systems and standards are needed to comprehensively evaluate the impact of donations, and ensure donated products can be used by the recipients in the developing world. Such challenges can be addressed "by an organized, collaborative effort," said Winson.

CHA isn't alone in advocating for the development of standards of practice for medical surplus recovery organizations. "The truth is many of the organizations are looking forward to developing shared standards," said Compton. "They are jumping at the opportunity to be part of this — which is amazing," he said. International health care organizations including the World Health Organization and Catholic Relief Services also support the effort.

Chris Palombo, chief executive of the Dispensary of Hope, a medical surplus recovery organization funded by Nashville, Tenn.-based Saint Thomas Health, said the evolving collaboration between medical surplus organizations will allow participants to "benchmark growth, learn tips (and) tricks from gifted peers and grow relationships with other solid agencies."

Visit International Outreach to access CHA's medical surplus recovery resources, including an assessment guide, a video making the case for ensuring quality medical donations in the developing world, and an executive brief of the 2010 medical surplus recovery study.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.