Biomeds Give Back
Surprising ways to use your skills for the greater good
By: K Richard Douglas
It’s better to give than to receive . Found originall y in the Bible , peo ple who have adopted this philosophy know it is true, including several biomeds we interviewed this month about their charitable efforts. Most will tell you that they feel great fulfillment from giving. They’ll also tell you that giving does not always refer to money or things – a donation of time and specialized skills can be equally helpful and rewarding.
Several charities across the U.S. recycle medical equipment and get that equipment to patients, hospitals and health clinics that might otherwise not be able to afford it. Teams of doctors and other health care specialists from the U.S. volunteer their time to perform medical procedures in developing countries, as well as for uninsured patients in the U.S.
Acquiring and maintaining working medical equipment is often cited as one of the most difficult challenges volunteers face.
The opportunity to be a part of these volunteer activities is always gratifying for the participants. Several charitable organizations specialize in health care missions, and each cite medical equipment support as a constant need. In areas where there is a shortage of medical equipment, there is almost always a shortage of people who have the proper training and tools to maintain that equipment.
“I am a big proponent of volunteering, and I encourage anyone who enters this field to use the talents they have to give back to society,” says Kelly VanDeWalker, CBET. “I have and still do volunteer for various organizations,” VanDeWalker says, including a Medical Missions company in Indianapolis. VanDeWalker finds ways to put his specialized training to use in the volunteer arena through “contacts I have made over the 30 years I have been in this profession.”
The need for health care volunteers in the wake of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti last January was overwhelming. Medical Dealer and TechNation covered the stories of several biomeds’ experiences of the aftermath. “I traveled to Milot, Haiti, for my fifth trip the last week of October 2011,” says David Sieminski, State Treasurer for the California Medical Instrumentation Association and the board representative for the group’s Capitol Chapter. There, he volunteered as a biomed at the Hôpital Sacré Coeur in northern Haiti.
Sieminski trained two Hatian biomed tech trainees on ventilators, skills they would use long after he was gone. “I also volunteered my services to American River College and taught an entry level biomed tech class on ventilation. I also volunteered my service again to American River College and taught an eight hour respiratory ventilation class for second year students and other biomed(s).” Volunteering veterans say offering training is one of the most helpful things they can provide. Without properly trained biomeds to maintain it, the value of any donated medical equipment sharply declines.
Sieminski has found several personal benefits to charitable work. “My volunteered time has been both the most rewarding and educational. I suggest doing charity work to expand your knowledge as well as to improve your social networking skills. As a volunteer to Haiti, I have been studying the language (Creole) and can now at least ask for what I need and understand what they need.
It’s easier than you think to get involved. “There are places and companies that help support your charitable work if you make them aware,” Sieminski says. “What a great way to spend a vacation.”
MedShare, a nonprofit organization that distributes medical supplies and equipment in developing countries, would agree. The organization recently helped convert a former University of Georgia campus bus with the staff and students at the Chattahoochee Technical College’s Biomedical Engineering Technology program to help teach young biomeds about volunteering. The refurbished bus will be used as a mobile medical clinic to screen for diabetes and hypertension in Ghana. Instructor Dr. Mike O’Rear and his students helped create the mobile medical clinic to aid the people of Ghana. When MedShare became aware of the need for such screening, they contacted Dr. O’Rear about initiating the project. MedShare will stock the bus with unused medical supplies gathered from U.S. hospitals.
Med Share and the Biomed Niche
There is a great need for biomeds in many of the nation’s charitable organizations, MedShare representatives say. The need encompasses a spectrum, from performing repairs and maintenance, to providing training, to evaluating donated medical equipment and even assisting with OEM and other industry contacts.
“Biomedical/clinical engineers and their departments can contribute to MedShare’s Hospital Recovery Program simply by being ever-mindful of our needs,” says Angie Bryan, Strategic Sourcing Manager at MedShare. The aggregator and distributor of surplus medical supplies and equipment has two locations: in Decatur, Ga., and San Leandro, Calif.
“Any time equipment is no longer needed by [your] program, it can be donated to MedShare, provided it is in relatively good condition. We also accept and need items that go along with biomedical equipment, such as tubes and other items needed for proper operation. If a department has a good relationship with a manufacturer, they can facilitate a connection for us. Many of our best partnerships have been formed in this way,” Bryan says.
Equipment that has reached the end of its useful life in this country can still be used overseas, if properly maintained. Two staff biomeds evaluate and repair all equipment donated to MedShare, but the organization also seeks biomed volunteers, especially in California, the Mid- Atlantic and South Florida, Bryan says.
“Though entirely dependent on the proximity of biomedical/clinic engineers to each of MedShare’s two warehouses (Atlanta and San Leandro, Calif.), we would welcome skilled engineers to assist in the assessment and repair of equipment.”
Biomeds can also help by promoting awareness of equipment needs in developing countries to the health care facilities, ISOs and OEMs they work for. “Med- Share has a great need for equipment. It is often the No. 1 item requested by our recipients,” Bryan says. “Consequently, it is also the most difficult to come by.”
Medical Missions Foundation
Medical Missions Foundation grew out of the need to help impoverished children in the Philippines and went on to serve the medical needs of children in 12 countries. Among the organization’s objectives are to provide surgical and medical care for children and adults and to provide donated medical equipment and supplies to economically depressed areas. Additionally, the nonprofit provides medical training to local health care providers.
Shanna Goodman, Director of Development and Marketing for Medical Mission Foundations, explains. “As our key mission is to provide surgeries for the disadvantaged children of developing countries, we always greatly appreciate the donation of time, services and equipment of biomedical and clinical engineers and their departments.”
“Biomedical engineers are instrumental in assuring the equipment we take on missions is of sound quality and function. We receive equipment donations from generous hospitals and private practices and they often need an inspection and tune-up prior to the mission. We’re able to pay that generosity forward in many instances in which we leave the equipment in-country for the local hospitals to utilize,” Goodman says.
Medical Mission Foundations can also use the help of biomeds to accompany them to the distant locales they serve. “We have several longtime volunteers that have helped us immensely in setting up or repairing equipment on site,” Goodman says. “Equipment on site can be a challenge as the amenities such as electricity and generators can be in short supply or have intermittent accessibility.”
Goodman also sees benefits to biomed professionals beyond the good feeling that comes from volunteering time. “Volunteering services for Medical Missions Foundation domestically or traveling internationally on a mission provides the opportunity for biomeds to hone their skills outside the normal day to day operations of their work. Many of our volunteers say that in working in developing countries allows them the opportunity to see things that they have only otherwise read in textbooks.”
“In addition to direct medical care provided by MMF doctors and nurses, educational components in the form of hand washing, nutrition, dental hygiene and burn prevention are also incorporated as frequently as possible with the module offered based on the need of the country. Uganda and Romania have had a high need for burn prevention awareness and since MMF has provided education, instances of ‘new’ burns have decreased in Romania,” Goodman says.
“Further, medical missions teams have clinically trained and equipped hundreds of medical professionals and hospitals to perform procedures previously unavailable in these countries. For instance, a Kansas City surgeon conducted the first knee replacement surgery in Bohol, Philippines, on our mission in September 2011. Over the years, millions of dollars worth of donated supplies and in-kind medical services have been shared with the medical personnel and patients in the economically depressed countries that we serve.”
Since its inception, “MMF has completed 62 missions in 12 countries, directly impacting more than 41,000 children and their families through surgeries and clinics.”
Brother ’s Brother Foundation
Myron Hartman, MS, SASHE, CCE, CRES, CBET, Program Coordinator for the Penn State University Biomedical Engineering Technology program has been a volunteer at Brother’s Brother Foundation since the late 1980s. While working as Director of Clinical Engineering at South Hills Health System, Hartman would take along a couple of biomeds and test equipment for the organization.
In more recent years, Hartman continued his work with the organization, enlisting some help from students. “Since I have been teaching at PSU the past 10 years, I have traveled with BBF to several local cities tagging equipment that could be used and have taken my students to BBF to do volunteer work in checking medical equipment,” Hartman says.
“In 2010 I received a call from Luke Hingson, president of BBF, asking me about helping with a project in Liberia, Africa. My goals were to evaluate the medical equipment needs, repair as much as I could, train as many individuals as I could, and then format a plan for long-term medical equipment support.”
A January 2011 trip took Hartman to Liberia to work at three hospitals over a 10-day period. Hartman planned to make a longer trip during the summer, but health considerations at home altered those plans. He decided instead to bring two biomedical technicians from Phebe hospital in Liberia to the U.S.
“During that time I trained them on medical equipment skills and provided them the resources for them to be instructors when they return home to train others. We also raised funding for them to rebuild their biomed shop. They have completed their shop renovation and are ready to begin the next phase of the project,” Hartman says.
Brother’s Brother Foundation has been around since 1958 and has served the needs of people in 140 countries. Those needs have been educational, humanitarian and medical. The organization’s website lists donations of “12,014 tons of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and hospital equipment” that have been shipped to more than 1,000 hospitals and clinics.
What can you do?
Hartman’s substantial experience has provided him with valuable insights for biomeds considering similar volunteer work. He suggests finding a local organization like Brother’s Brother Foundation where you can donate used medical equipment.
“Donated medical equipment must be in working condition, have all accessories and cables, operators and service manuals and any spare parts. It also must be suitable for use in the hospital receiving the equipment with supplies readily available,” he says.
Hartman suggests that if you locate a local organization that does work like Brother’s Brother, you can volunteer to visit their facility to “check, repair and identify equipment that should or should not be shipped.”
“Donate your used tools and test equipment. Most biomed shops in developing countries have little to no equipment to service or check medical equipment analyzers, simulators, DMM, electronic test equipment (or) hand tools,” Hartman suggests. He also recommends cash donations and donations of electronic service manuals.
But what if you don’t have time to travel to volunteer? There are some ways you can get involved right now. Hartman suggests that biomeds identify themselves as a resource “for someone to telephone or e-mail questions on service, calibration, parts and operation of a medical device.”
Hartman would like to bring together the combined experience of volunteers who have been involved in medical equipment support. “I am hoping to return someday to continue the medical equipment support and training in Liberia. In talking with my peers in the profession who also do similar volunteer work for medical equipment support in developing countries, we are planning a session at the next spring MD Expo in Florida. There are many individuals and organizations providing medical equipment support, so why not join forces so each one of us is not having to create something new? We can share ideas, resources, contacts, and create a network of sharing that can benefit the volunteer, which in turn will benefit the recipients of the work.”
Thanks, TechNation! We are honored to have been included.