CEO Corner: MedShare in New York

On December 8th, 2011, MedShare’s New York Regional Council hosted a dinner at The University Club to welcome MedShare to New York. Our CEO and President Meridith Rentz gave an inspiring speech which we wanted to share.

“As Seth [Zachary, MedShare Trustee] shared, I have 3 little boys…..they were certainly a key motivation for me to become a part of this extraordinary MedShare team. I am delighted and honored to be here this evening to share more about the important work MedShare does every day.

Are there any other mothers in the room? What about fathers? Daughters? Sons? Brothers? Sisters? Okay – I think we’ve covered just about everyone. Close your eyes please – just for a moment. Imagine, if you will, being a pregnant mother at term and going to your local hospital only to find out that in order to deliver your baby you must go to the store and purchase the supplies you need in order to ensure a safe and successful delivery – but you have no money to do so. This is a common occurrence at a hospital in Uganda. Now, imagine delivering a premature baby only to find out the hospital doesn’t have an incubator and so your child will be transported in a shoe box by a motorcycle ambulance to another hospital in order to get the care she needs. This happens every day in Haiti. Now imagine your brother being in surgery and the anesthesia machine failing. This happened in Colombia. Fathers, imagine losing your son because the hospital at which he was born didn’t have something as simple as this, an endotracheal tube with infant resuscitation mask. This happened in Niger.

MedShare CEO Meridith Rentz speaking at the NY Benefit

These are difficult stories to hear. This past September, when the special envoy from the office of the First Lady of Haiti visited us at MedShare, she told us about the motorcycle transport of low birth weight infants. After she finished speaking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Those stories sit heavy, so heavy on your heart. If these situations were to occur in the United States, the outrage would be instantaneous and enormous. Lawyers would be called. Politicians would be stirred up. Op-eds would be written. Protests staged. Unfortunately, – and perhaps even outrageously – this is the status quo in many developing countries. A hospital or clinic may have the most talented, the most committed doctors and nurses in the world……but if they don’t have the critical supplies and equipment, there is often little they can do to save the lives of those patients that depend on them.

While we certainly have some challenges with our health system here in the United States, we are typically not lacking for supplies. In fact, as was shared in the videos, the US health system throws away millions of tons of medical waste per year, much of which is useful surplus created as a result of procedural excess and our regulatory environment. Surely we’re capable of finding a way to recover these items and get them into the hands of talented medical professionals caring for the mother in Uganda, the children in Haiti and Niger, and the brothers and sisters in Colombia.

Well, I have good news. In this case, we don’t need a protest; we don’t need op-eds; we don’t require the help of politicians. You see – MedShare is that bridge between our U.S. surplus and the tremendous need across the developing world. Here is the same endotracheal tube with infant resuscitation mask that the doctor in Niger needed to save a child’s life. It would have gone to a landfill if MedShare didn’t have the systems in place to recover it. We have hundreds of these items in our inventory right now and they are being ordered every day by the recipients we serve. We are taking something that is being discarded right here, every day by New York hospitals and getting it to a place where it can mean the difference between life and death.

The MedShare concept is simple – we take something that is no longer useful in one context and get it to another where it is. A place where it can improve healthcare and save lives. We do this in a way that values the dignity of the recipients and actually allows them to choose box by box exactly what they need. This high quality, responsible model that was developed carefully and thoughtfully by co-founders A.B. Short and Bob Freeman 13 years ago has been lauded through national studies by the Catholic Health Association and others.

Simple, yet powerful. Simple, and yet it takes a lot to make this happen. In order to create that bridge between surplus and need, MedShare needs hospital partners; we need suppliers and manufacturers; we need thousands of volunteers; and MedShare needs financial support. We need help from you.

In our early days, we recognized that there was nothing unique about the medical surplus in Atlanta, and our Board committed to developing an organization that – when appropriate – could be replicated and expanded into other communities. As Seth mentioned, the New York Tri-State area has more hospitals than any other market in the United States. This need was confirmed as part of a national pro bono expansion study conducted for MedShare by Accenture. So MedShare has developed a world-class, proven model and New York has the largest potential medical surplus in the U.S. that is not being systematically and comprehensively gathered. Any way you look at that equation, it points to the fact that hundreds of thousands of lives can be saved if MedShare joins this New York community and works in partnership with all you and many others.

In fact, even before we have had a chance to set up a facility here, we have been overwhelmed by the support of our tremendous New York Council, led by the extraordinarily committed Sandy Tytel. We were extremely honored to be selected by the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the nation, to handle their surplus supply and equipment donations. Already, we have 80 collection sites throughout the system. North Shore LIJ “champions” have been to Atlanta for training, and have taken that knowledge back to train their staff to utilize this program. We recently processed a donation of 400 late model hospital beds from North Shore LIJ. Thanks to the The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation’s sponsorship, 150 of those beds have already been shipped to Accra, Ghana, to benefit needy hospitals there. We have another shipment planned to benefit a series of clinics in Peru scheduled for January. We have also received donations of IV pumps and poles from North Shore and are in the process of handling donations of baby incubators, anesthesia machines, and other useful equipment. Soon, this equipment and supplies will be in the hands of doctors and nurses across Africa and South America and will quite literally allow them to save lives.

MedShare has worked with Dennis Lynch and Sandy Tytel to send a container to Sunyani, Ghana, to benefit the charity health care facilities operated by the Catholic Church. Our MedShare team has worked with New York Drs. Julius Garvey and Allan Abramson to send a container to Jamaica and we are engaged in a project with North Shore LIJ employees from Sierra Leone to send a container there. With the support of excellent product manufacturers and distributors like Henry Schein, Covidien and Kimberly-Clark, we are able to supplement our recovered supplies with newly manufactured product.

While substantial, these results garnered over the past 6 months barely scratch the surface of MedShare’s potential community impact in New York. As we grow our physical presence in this market and establish a distribution center, we will be able to equip local medical teams, send hundreds of containers of medical supplies, and divert millions of cubic feet of medical surplus from area landfills. We will also create thousands of volunteer and civic engagement opportunities to mobilize the residents of the New York Tri-State Region in meaningful, high impact service. The potential is enormous.

Just like with any new venture in the for-profit world, before we can proceed with this next exciting phase in the New York market, we must attract seed capital and develop the key relationships required to support the MedShare model. We need introductions to hospitals, potential philanthropic donors, and volunteer, religious and civic groups who might want to become involved in MedShare’s mission.

I began my remarks by talking about real, specific stories that members of the MedShare team have experienced over the years. Unfortunately, those stories are not the exception to the norm – rather, the need in developing countries is truly exponential. There are 7 billion people living in the world today and billions of them live in poverty on less than $2 per day. Simply put, this world of ours needs more MedShare. This world – more specifically, mothers in Uganda, children in Haiti and Colombia, families in Niger, and countless others – they need the support of this New York community.

As you step up to this challenge, you have our commitment that MedShare will continue to be the bridge between New York medical surplus and tremendous need in developing countries. We will work hand-in-hand with the New York community, to save lives around the world, and keep surplus from ending up in your area landfills. On behalf of the millions of women, men and children whose lives have already been improved by MedShare supplies and equipment, THANK YOU for all you have done and all that I know you will do to help us to fulfill our mission of bridging the gap between surplus and need.”

This was part of our December 2011 newsletter. To view the rest – including stories on our expansion into NY and FL and our new videos – click here.

MedShare Celebrates 700th Container Shipment

MedShare staff, volunteers and supporters celebrate the 700th container shipment

On Friday, September 2nd, MedShare celebrated a milestone achievement: we shipped our 700th container of humanitarian aid. This shipment paid tribute to A.B. Short and Bob Freeman’s founding vision, and celebrated the success of our past 13 years, during which we’ve shipped over $93 million worth of medical supplies and equipment to 88 developing countries and territories around the world. In the process, over 2 million cubic feet of space has been saved from landfills, as well as millions of lives around the world.

The container was sent from our Western Region Distribution and Volunteer Center in Northern California, and will benefit beleaguered hospitals in Misrata, Libya.

Turn-out at the ceremony was fitting for an event of this magnitude: Mr. Homdi Soliman, Operation Director of HOPE International Relief & Development Agency and sponsor, Dr. Heshaam Fallah, a Libyan-American physician with Kaiser Permanente and project coordinator, the Chief Medical Officer from Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente representatives, a Council Member from the City of San Leandro, MedShare Trustees and Regional Council members, and many of our volunteers were in attendance. Mr. Soliman and Dr. Fallah spoke about the grave healthcare situation in Libya, and Mary Bersot, Trustee and Western Region Council Chair, shared her appreciation to our staff and volunteers.

“It has been an exceptional experience working with MedShare and all their staff throughout the Libyan conflict. With their extraordinary service and vision, we were able to help save the lives of thousands of men, women, and children,” said Homdi Soliman, Operation Director of HOPE.

The container was sponsored by HOPE International Relief & Development Agency (USA)based out of Columbus, Ohio. I-GO Aid Foundation, based in Malta, Libya, will coordinate delivery of the supplies and equipment to hospitals in Libya. The 1,000 boxes of medical supplies we sent were supplemented with biomedical equipment and durable medical goods, including hospital beds, gurneys, exam lights, exam tables, a ventilator for pediatric and adult patients, surgical packs, syringes, gloves and oxygen masks. Hospitals throughout Libya are dealing with a humanitarian catastrophe, as they are running short on critically needed medical supplies. This marked the fourth shipment we’ve sent to hospitals in Libyacollaborating with these partners.

We must give credit where credit is due: MedShare wouldn’t be celebrating this milestone achievement were it not for our wonderful community. For those that support MedShare through your gift of time, in-kind or financial donations or community advocacy, we thank you for all that you do, and ask that you continue helping us bridge the gap between surplus and need. With your partnership, there is no limit to what we can achieve, and we look forward to celebrating our 1,000th, 2,500th, and 5,000th container shipments with you!

To view more photos of this shipment ceremony, click here.

This is an excerpt from September’s e-newsletter. To read more – including a letter from CEO Meridith Rentz and the story of a medical mission team in South Georgia – click here.

Co-Founders, A.B. Short and Bob Freeman reflect on 10 years at MedShare

In celebration of 10 years of service at MedShare, Co-Founders, A.B. Short and Bob Freeman sat down to reflect on the memories, milestones and events that shaped who MedShare is today.

What was your initial vision for MedShare and how has that evolved over the past 10 years?

A.B.: Neither Bob nor I have background in healthcare or international aid, but we both came into this with extensive nonprofit skills. Our vision emerged from conducting thorough due diligence and verifying that there was indeed surplus in the healthcare industry and also a great need internationally. Every hospital that we approached wanted to be on board with what we were doing. That confirmed that we needed to push ahead. The other thing we did was establish a Board that would take ownership of the vision and be the driving force for the growth and development of the organization, and I believe that was a crucial decision in the fast growth of MedShare.

BOB: A.B. and I were fortunate enough to start Cafe 458 together and have always shared and lived by three common of values: Hope, Transformation and Dignity. I believe those values carried over to MedShare. And we also had two basic rules when starting MedShare: We had to have fun and pay attention to our families.

Was there an “ah-ha” moment or event that triggered you to move forward in starting MedShare?

A.B.: On the operational side, we met with Dr. Bill Foege, now Senior Fellow with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That was pivotal in shaping the values and focus of MedShare. At that lunch, he stressed the importance of shipping medical items that the recipient needed, rather than simply shipping what supplies we had. This changed our operations to focus on using technology; meaning using a web-based inventory that allows the recipient to choose what medical products goes into their shipment.

BOB: I would say a huge moment was when Glen Reed came on our Board. He was a partner at King & Spalding who focused on healthcare, and he set up meetings for us with hospital CEOs in Atlanta where we got the opportunity to tell our story and vision for MedShare.

Did you foresee MedShare getting to the point it is now – a $3 million organization shipping almost 500 medical containers to 78 countries?

A.B.: Here’s the funny answer to that question: I stood up at a Board retreat a couple years back and said, “I never dreamed we would be where we are today.” Then Bob Freeman, jokingly said “I thought we would be farther along than this.”

BOB: We really weren’t thinking about the lofty possibilities, because in the beginning it was a question of survival and sustainability.

A.B: But to add to that; in any entrepreneurial effort, you have to take risks. If it was a sure bet, then everybody would be doing it.

In the 10 years MedShare has been in operation, what has been your favorite MedShare moment or story?

BOB: From my standpoint, when new board members joined MedShare, it always reminded me “this is why we do what we do”. For example, when Tom Asher joined, he couldn’t stop talking about how great our operations are and how special MedShare is because we are not providing services, but providing materials around the world with very challenging issues to overcome.

A.B.: A few things stick out in my mind. One story is about Dr. Kirker from Chicago, who, at the request of the President of Niger, went back to the hospital where he served years ago in the Peace Corp to bring it back to life. Through Dr. Kirker’s efforts, he found MedShare and we partnered with him to get this hospital operating again. It’s a beautiful story of how you don’t work or succeed in isolation. You succeed in partnerships and in joining forces to make a difference.

Another powerful story occurred in our third year of operations. A doctor from Africa was touring MedShare with a Board member. She reached down and picked up a little plastic piece that opens up breathing and said, “If I’d had this a few weeks ago, I could have saved that baby’s life.” That reminded me of the life-saving potential these supplies have once in the hands of a skilled physician.

Can you share some of those defining moments or events that really shaped the growth of MedShare?

BOB: In our second year, we were struggling financially and went to a major local foundation for help. We had all the right people from our Board with us, and told them our story. They listened and ended up giving us a $250,000 grant to get us “over the bridge” and said don’t come back asking for more.

AB: I remember in December 2000, we were almost out of money and had a Board meeting to discuss it. One of our Board members stood up and said, “I’m willing to take out a line of credit on my house to get us through this period of time because I believe in the organization that much, and I believe that we’re going to make it.” That blew me away. I mean, how many organizations have a board that committed to the mission? Luckily, this sacrifice wasn’t necessary, because we got the grant.

What is the “big picture” that you see for MedShare?

BOB: Our first future challenge is to continue in our expansion plan. The second challenge and goal is to grow during these tough economic times. Not just survive, but to grow.

A.B.: There’s a lot MedShare is looking at for the future. We are in the process of identifying regions around the world to focus on and be more proactive in developing relationships with other NGOs that are on the ground doing quality work in those countries where we want to work. We are also open to having regional representatives in those specified regions that help do evaluations, deal with customs and such. We’ve found that biomedical equipment is a huge need overseas, and plan to place a heavier emphasis on more sophisticated biomed staffing and providing additional support on the equipment once we send it overseas. Our future holds more formal partnerships with corporations and nonprofits, because success in making a difference comes from joining forces.