Study finds need for improvement in surplus donations

March 1, 2011

Equipment could be processed more efficiently

A CHA-commissioned study has found that Catholic health systems and facilities are highly interested in donating their surplus equipment and supplies overseas — and many of them already do so. But there is a concern that the infrastructure for handling such donations is insufficient and inefficient.

CHA is working to find a way to help its members donate their surplus goods as effectively as possible, said Bruce Compton, CHA senior director of international outreach. "We want to make sure that the donations are useful and appropriate for the recipients," he said. "That way, when Catholic hospitals donate supplies, they can be sure they will be used as they are intended, to help people in need."

Compton explained that when surplus donations are made haphazardly or unsystematically, there is a chance they will go to waste. To help its members avoid such waste, CHA last year decided to study what types of items ministry facilities donate now, and to assess the quality and the capacity of the donation system for surplus. Accenture Development Partnerships, the consultancy CHA hired to conduct the research, recently finished a six-month study of the supply chain. A grant from the Gerard Health Foundation of Natick, Mass., funded the study. The private foundation of Marilyn A. and Raymond B. Ruddy, Gerard Health supports and finances health care initiatives worldwide.

Already active, eager to do more
Accenture began its study by surveying top executives, mission leaders and materials managers at hundreds of Catholic health systems and facilities. More than 600 respondents completed the online questionnaire.

Responses indicate that more than 70 percent of the hospitals surveyed already collect surplus supplies and equipment for donation to hospitals and clinics in the developing world. Many respondents said they want to donate more. When asked why they wish to donate surplus, 84 percent said it is because such donations help the ministry deliver on its mission. "That is a response that was ubiquitous across the respondents, regardless of their roles or the size of their hospital or system," said Anastasia Thatcher, a consultant with Accenture. "They are interested in doing more to deliver upon the mission in this way."

Many respondents also said equipment and supply donation benefits the community and is a "green" way to handle surplus.

When asked how they thought their supply donation process could be improved, 45 percent said they could use help with identifying surplus. This was the most frequent response to this question. Large percentages of respondents reported donating broken equipment or soon-to-expire supplies. Donors often believe a supply processor or the donation recipient will be able to fix broken equipment, explained Compton. But, in reality, many supply handlers do not make such repairs, and most recipients do not have the resources or the parts to make the fixes.

The World Health Organization has said that it is difficult to document what actually happens to used health care equipment that arrives in developing nations but that the sense among some biomedical engineers and health care professionals who have extensive work experience in these countries is that less than 30 percent — and perhaps as low as 10 percent — of medical equipment is operational.

Many respondents to the Accenture survey said they could use assistance with being matched with recipients, building relationships with international partners and reporting on what surplus was donated and what was used by the recipients.

Survey analysis revealed that, with more support, the ministry could secure more surplus and process the supplies in a way that makes them more useful for recipients. Thatcher said, "It's clear that a tremendous opportunity exists in Catholic health care, in that ministry organizations have both the desire and capabilities needed to identify additional and better-quality surplus — many want to start up new, innovative programs in the near future."

Strained capacity
Many ministry organizations that donate surplus overseas do so through a medical surplus recovery organization, a nonprofit that serves as an intermediary between surplus donors and recipients. Accenture visited nine such recovery organizations and assessed each according to efficiency of operations including supply processing, leadership team and staff performance, and how well each works with donors and recipients.

The consultants found significant variation in quality among the surplus recovery organizations. While many are quite effective, all face significant challenges, particularly when it comes to collecting and sorting donations, matching donors to recipients and having sufficiently trained staff in the processing areas.

While there is a lot of surplus equipment in ministry hospitals, and considerable need for the supplies in developing nations, there is insufficient capacity at the surplus recovery organizations to evaluate, sort and process that surplus, and there is a lack of funding to get it to the right place. Those deficiencies can cause a bottleneck in the supply chain, the consultants said.

Costs versus benefits
Accenture also interviewed representatives of 15 overseas health care organizations that receive aid from the ministry.

When asked whether they would rather receive a container of quality, needed surplus or the donation's cost in cash, all respondents said they would want the container. One respondent explained, "The value of a container of surplus far exceeds what could be purchased with $25,000 or even $50,000," for instance.

The interviewees said supplies are most useful when they have been specifically requested, are not expired, and are sorted and shipped in a clean and uniform way.

An opportunity to improve
The consultants' survey, site visits and analysis have uncovered an opportunity for CHA to help educate Catholic health systems and facilities about the value of improving how they donate surplus. CHA also can help to better coordinate the donation efforts of ministry organizations and to strengthen relationships among donors, supply recovery organizations and beneficiaries, said Compton.

Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, CHA president and chief executive officer, said the Accenture study "contains a blueprint for the most effective donation programs. It can take our current donation programs to a much more effective level for the good of so many needy around the world."

Compton said CHA will study in more depth how ministry members donate surplus. It will determine how that process can be improved and develop a plan for helping the ministry to donate in a manner that allows recipients to optimize the donations.

Sr. Carol added, "Many members of CHA are either donating or want to donate, and they want to donate in the most helpful way. Knowing what supplies and equipment and in what condition and quantity will be most helpful, gives invaluable guidance.

"Knowing that the equipment can be used and maintained assures that our donation accomplishes what we intended," Sr. Carol said. 

Additional resources, webinar

CHA will host a complimentary webinar at noon ET on March 22 to discuss the survey findings and what comes next.

Following the webinar, CHA will release a white paper on the challenges and barriers involved with surplus donation, the benefits of donating and the opportunities for the ministry to improve.


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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