MERCI Project recovers $18 million in medical supplies
U.Va. nurse Helen French completed her first inventory of trash
in the 19 operating rooms at the Medical Center in 1992, she discovered
"gold" -- dozens of clean, unused medical supplies,
such as surgical gloves, face masks, gauze and sutures. They were
being incinerated along with the used supplies.
thought that everything in an OR was infectious. What I saw were
all these clean supplies that were unwrapped but never used,"
said French, who has spent 11 of her 26 years as an operating
room nurse at U.Va. As a result, French founded the Medical Equipment
Recovery of Clean Inventory Project at U.Va., which donates the
clean, unused medical supplies to charities. Recently the project's
donation total surpassed $18 million worth of recovered supplies.
has provided more than 80 tons of recovered supplies to humanitarian
missions," she said.
unused supplies come mainly from surgical kits prepared in advance
to save time. However, clean gloves in the kit, for example, might
not be the correct size for the surgeons and go unused, or more
packets of sutures may be provided than are needed.
"Individually, it doesn't look like much, but when you collect
it, that's when the amount becomes huge," French said.
hospital administration told French she could set up her proposed
trash separation system in the U.Va. operating rooms, and educate
staff to use it. French gathered and processed the supplies, maintained
inventory and coordinated donations in her spare time. In 1995,
U.Va. began to pay her one day per week to process supplies, although
she still volunteers additional time with sporadic help from volunteers.
thing that propels the system is that people know that they're
helping others in need," she said.
organizations receiving MERCI donations range from the American
Red Cross to smaller relief groups, like Mercy Ships of Texas.
The organizations pick up these donations or arrange for shipping.
Last winter, one hospital in Lithuania received 86,000 pounds
of supplies. Since 1992, 89 tons have gone to 19 countries. This
year's total topped 30,000 pounds. More than 5,000 pounds were
recycled at U.Va.'s hospital and research labs.
volunteer work by U.Va. doctors and nurses through Operation
Smile is often supplied by the MERCI Project. The recently
formed group, Nursing Students Without Borders, also received
some supplies this year. Other local recipients include the Free
Clinic, rescue squads and U.Va.'s Camp Holiday Trails.
now serves on a federal Environmental Protection Agency task force
to reduce total waste and presented the MERCI project at a National
Institutes of Health conference last fall, where it was cited
as a best practice. She promotes the program as a model for other
a lot more going on than just processing supplies. It's helping
others, helping the environment and saving money," she said.