Organizations: Medshare International
History Repeating: A.B. Short knows a thing or two about working with surplus items – he got his start in nonprofits with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and moved on to found Café 458, feeding the homeless in downtown Atlanta. About 15 years ago, a friend mentioned that the healthcare industry had the same difficulty handling surplus as the food service industry, and that third world hospitals were going without while their Ameri-can counterparts threw unused – but still sterile – supplies in the trash.
Meeting Needs: Short and fellow co-founder Bob Freeman wanted to provide those hospitals with much needed supplies – not just ship off the leftovers. “We work with healthcare facilities in the U.S. to collect and process their surplus,” Short says. “We offer it through a web-based inventory where people can order through us – that’s our distinguishing factor.”
Shipping News: The Decatur-based nonprofit takes still-sterile surplus (hospitals aren’t allowed to send non-sterile items, Short says), repackages it and ships it off via 40-foot containers to hospitals in third world countries. Since making its first shipment 10 years ago (mattresses that went to Jamaica), the organization has sent 460 of those containers to some 70 countries. Last year alone, Short says, 53 percent of the shipments went to Africa. Countries in Latin and South America are the group’s second most frequent recipients.
Who’s Eligible: Recipients are vetted through an extensive application process, Short says, not only to ensure that they are actual nonprofit institutions, but to build an understanding of their capabilities – “what departments they have, what kind of surgeries they do, how many patients they see on a monthly basis.”
Customs Concerns: In addition to hospital capacity, Short says, MedShare also makes sure hospital staff has “the capability and sophistication to deal with the bureaucracy in their own country.” That’s because many third world nations follow World Health Organization standards for humanitarian aid which exist to help prevent charities from dumping expired pharmaceuticals and other items, but can also add red tape.
Branching Out: Med-Share recently opened a West Coast distribution center in San Leandro, Calif. Others are planned for the Mid-Atlantic region, the Midwest, and Florida. Short says the group is taking pains not to locate in an area already served by a similar organization (there are some five major groups with similar functions). MedShare also is leading the charge to create Med-Surplus Network, which Short is chairing, to develop best practices and standards among these groups.