New York Weill Cornell, Led by Students, Salvages Surplus Supplies and Ships Them to Needy Institutions Abroad

Feb 22, 2001


Through a student-led volunteer program called REMEDY, New York Weill Cornell Medical Center has begun gathering many of its surplus supplies, such as surgical drapes, gloves, and instruments, and shipping them to needy institutions in places like Africa and Russia.

"There is a great deal of material that becomes surplus in an American medical center but that is still clean and good for use at medical centers abroad," says the students' spokesperson and medical advisor, Dr. Patricia Fogarty Mack, a New York Weill Cornell anesthesiologist.

At New York Weill Cornell, many operating-room supplies—such as surgical drapes, syringe bulbs, sponges, and gloves—routinely become surplus if they are opened and the operation is cancelled—if, for example, the patient is too sick, or some other eventuality arises.

But in developing countries, such supplies can still be used. At Bugando Medical Center in Tanzania, supplies are so scarce that, for example, gloves for some purposes might be washed and reused until they practically fall apart. The foam packing of some merchandise might find a second life as a crib mattress. What New York Weill Cornell can hardly find space for is a treasure in Africa.

Collecting these surplus supplies and getting them to needy places like Tanzania is the mission of REMEDY (Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World). REMEDY originated at Yale and has spread to New York Weill Cornell, where several shipments have gone out in the past half-year. And the amounts involved are not trivial: the value of the goods in the first shipment was $250,000, and the total value of donated goods in the first year may be as high as $750,000.

As an anesthesiologist, Dr. Mack is well-placed to monitor the flow of operating-room supplies, and, sitting in her office, she has grown accustomed to sharing space with clear plastic bags of the stuff. Other people who work around the operating rooms, like nurses, have learned to set aside surplus supplies for her; people from the Materials Management Department and hospital volunteers help out; and, one way or another, a useful shipment is put together.

The biggest hurdles are finding space to sort and store the supplies temporarily and somehow paying the shipping cost. REMEDY at New York Weill Cornell has been making do with what spaces it can scrounge up (including corners of Dr. Mack's office). For one shipment to Tanzania, the organization arranged for the goods to be sent from the college bookstore along with some books to the Connecticut warehouse of the charity organization Americares, from which Fr. Peter LeJacq, M.D., a Cornell medical graduate, had them shipped to Bugando through a contribution from a friend.

Besides Bugando, the New York Weill Cornell students have given some supplies to Healing the Children, an organization of American medical personnel who go to Russia to perform heart surgery. They have also sent supplies for Indian and Salvadoran earthquake relief. For Healing the Children, the trick has been to get the supplies to Kennedy International Airport, where they are checked aboard as part of the medical delegation's luggage. For that airport trip, renting a van or hiring a moving company has been necessary.

The medical students supply some of the labor, and they also take the lead in seeking out likely places to send the surplus supplies. In their fourth-year travel experiences, they visit many poor countries.

So kudos to medical students who are active in REMEDY: Chad Marsden, Vass Eliopolous, and Jonathan Melk (all second-year), and Lisa Mills and David Greenblatt (third-year).

And thanks also to the Department of Anesthesiology; to helpful persons in Materials Management (Allison Flynn, Aida Borges, Jesus Acosta, Romeo Valcus, Vilma Caibal); and to operating room staff Theresita Duinkerk, Richard Gosse, and Joanne Kulsa.