Nurse Gives Second Life to Discarded Medical Supplies

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media , December 1, 2009

Second, such programs benefit the environment. Most of the material that McLellan collects is composed of plastic or other non-biodegradable materials. Recycling these supplies means they don't end up in a landfill. And McLellan says healthcare professionals are usually delighted to find a way to prevent needless waste. Last, and most importantly, such programs present an opportunity to distribute supplies to people who are less fortunate than us and to make a difference for good in the world.

She shares an example about sterile syringes and sterile needles of all different sizes, which are one of the most common items she receives and that are in desperately short supply in third world countries.

"They draw up the medication in a syringe and give 1 cc of medication to you and they turn around, and with the same needle, they give the other cc to another person. Because they don't have an abundant supply of sterile needles and syringes," says McLellan. "So they are passing HIV from one person to another with dirty needles."

"Every hospital throws these away by the thousand. These need to be saved so we can provide a supply to people in the third world and stop this from happening."

All of the discarded items are a gift to the recipients, which are never big city hospitals, which tend to have reasonable supplies. Rather, they are little towns or villages, such as Turmi in Ethiopia, which she says is a torturous eight-hour drive from Addis Ababa and whose medical center lacks basic necessities.

McLellan's next trip is to Cambodia over Christmas, where she hopes her newly-minted organization will eventually be able to convert a boat to become a clinic that will travel up and down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Siem providing medical care to rural areas of Cambodia. Her goal is for the operation to be staffed by a revolving cadre of volunteers.

In the spirit of the season, when many of us are looking for ways to do something for those less privileged than us, McLellan's effort is a shining example. To find out more information or learn how to start a similar program, follow Partners for World Health on Facebook, or contact McLellan at 207-671-4723 or

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Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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