Discarded Medical Supplies Aid Others in Central, South America

Article excerpt

It started out as an idea among three Pittsburgh women chatting at a kitchen table.

Every year, hospitals were replacing tons of supplies dumped into landfills. So why not improve health and the environment by donating those old supplies to developing countries?

Global Links was born.

This fall, the nonprofit organization celebrates its 20th anniversary and looks forward to its most successful year yet. It is on track to keep 250 tons of medical supplies out of landfills and put them in the hands of doctors at hospitals and clinics in nine countries in Central and South America.

Donations come from more than 50 hospitals and senior-care facilities in Western Pennsylvania, as well as from several outside the region, such as The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

"It's a simple concept," said Kathleen Hower, Global Links' executive director and cofounder, who has worked in clerical and clinical positions at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. "Not only are you keeping these supplies out of landfills, but you're sending them to people who desperately need them and are dying from a lack of them. But it's very complex to carry out."

Hower and fellow Global Links cofounders Emily Solomon and Brenda Smith stored the first donations from what was then Presbyterian Hospital in their homes.

"I remember my dining room table covered in this equipment," said Hower, of the North Side's Mexican War Streets. "My kids were our first volunteers, helping to sort it all."

Global Links now counts about 1,000 volunteers and 17 full- and part-time staff. Its annual operating budget of about $1.2 million comes from several sources, including foundations, national and international grants and individuals.

"Our volunteers work six days a week, doing all of the sorting, counting, packing," said Angela Garcia, deputy director. "If we didn't have volunteers, we wouldn't be able to do this."

The organization has two warehouses in Homewood to store equipment awaiting shipment and offices in Garfield where supplies such as bandages and sutures are sorted by volunteers.

Hower credits the "hospital greening" -- in which hospitals strive to lower their environmental footprint -- for increasing awareness of Global Links. …