A question from a recently widowed friend at church and a reader both looking to donate unused medical supplies started me on a research quest this week for some answers.
Understandably, when people have unused medical equipment or supplies they no longer need after a medical procedure or death, they want to find a place to Pay It Forward.
Here’s what I found: It’s tricky and sometimes sticky for the receiving organization.
Dr. Jeff Kempf, who recently retired as an emergency room physician and director of the office of pediatric global health at Akron Children’s Hospital, has for years served in medical missions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with his wife, Dr. Ellen Kempf, also a retired Children’s physician.
“None of this is easy. People offer with really good intentions and they want to do the right thing,” said Dr. Jeff Kempf. Over the years, he has told donors, often grieving families of a child who has died, that he will take a look at what supplies they have and “do my best and tell people thanks. Some gets used and some doesn’t,” said Kempf, who is not currently accepting donations, but provided a really good perspective on the subject.
But Kempf also doesn’t want to give people false hope that all their donations are going to help people locally or in poor international countries.
It depends on the donations, the need and the cost to ship.
Medications are the biggest issue. There’s no guarantee after medications are dispensed to a patient that they are still good or how they’ve been used or stored, so no one will accept opened medications, said Kempf.
Some places will take medications that are still sealed with some type of foil, if it’s a liquid.
For those used medications, over-the-counter medications and especially unused opioids in medicine cabinets, the best thing to do is use the free prescription and medication disposal bags. These bags deactivate drugs after you fill it with water and render the chemical compounds safe for landfills.
According to the Summit County Community Partnership, which works with organizations to get opioids and other drugs off the streets, the free bags are available at several locations: all Acme pharmacies, Discount Drug Mart locations in Summit County only and all Akron-Summit County Public Library branches.
Free pouches can also be requested statewide at https://ohiorxdisposal.com/disposal-bag-request/
If you can’t get a bag, as a last resort, put the medicine in the trash with coffee grounds, kitty litter or anything that's food waste to discourage kids or animals from taking them. To protect waterways, do not flush medications down the toilet or put them in the sink.
Locally, a good place for many unused or like-new medical supplies is the Open M Ministry’s Free Medical Clinic. The clinic provides free primary medical care by appointment for uninsured adults and is funded by grants and donations.
The clinic will take most things medical-related and if they can’t use it, they'll hold it for another area ministry called CAMO, the Central American Medical Outreach out of Wooster, said Angel Seese, Open M’s Medical Clinic manager.
However, there are some things Seese said Open M won’t take: any used bedpans or showering or bathing items, even if they’ve been sanitized. Seese said once they received a donation of a bedpan that was still full.
Goodwill will accept these gently-used items: shower chairs (must be in like-new condition with no rust), walkers, wheelchairs, transfer chairs, scooters, crutches and at its retail locations only, Goodwill accepts hospital beds if they include the mattress (encased in plastic with no stains or rips) in good condition and working order. The other items can be dropped off at a Goodwill retail location or drop-off locations.
Goodwill will not accept bedpans, oxygen canisters, nebulizers, dehumidifiers and medications, said Jennifer Bako, Director of Public & Donor Relations
Back at Open M, a new shower chair with the tags on would be accepted, as well as gently used crutches, walkers and wheelchairs, preferably foldable. The biggest issue is storage for most organizations.
They will take used braces, such as for knees or backs and can sanitize them. They will also take unopened and unused bandages and elastic cloth bandage wraps.
Open M will not take any opened medications, but will take new bottles with protective foil. They will also take insulin, insulin pens and inhalers, as long as they are unopened and not expired.
Seese said they are also in need of over-the-counter vitamins and pain relievers such as Aleve (naproxen), Tylenol (acetaminophen) and baby aspirin — all unopened. Nebulizers and masks and adult diapers can also be accepted.
If you’re unsure, call the clinic at 330-434-0110. Donations can be dropped off at Open M at 941 Princeton St. in Akron during normal business hours.
CAMO helps provide medical supplies to poor rural areas in Honduras.
“The things that are really needed are colostomy items, wound-care items and respiratory care items,” said Executive Director Kathy Tschiegg, who added she is also overrun with walkers, crutches and wheelchairs and can’t take them.
CAMO ships nine, 40-foot containers a year full of medical equipment and supplies from individual donors and local hospitals and groups in Northeast Ohio, she said.
“The front line is where we need the most; those poor rural clinics need gauze and tape and (elastic bandage) wraps,” she said. There’s even an orphan nursing home of senior citizens that can use adult diapers. Tschiegg said she will take opened packs, as long as they are still clean.
Another resource for perhaps a wider variety of medical items, if you’re willing to drive up to a Cleveland drop-off site, is an organization Kempf mentioned: Medwish. The organization takes donations mostly from hospitals and institutions by repurposing medical supplies and equipment in developing countries. Unused, non-expired medical supplies and equipment can be dropped off Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1625 E. 31st St. in Cleveland or call 216-692-1685 if you need another time. For a full list of what is accepted, go to www.medwish.org/give/medical-supplies/
One more organization that collects some supplies is the Joni and Friends, an international disability ministry. Steve Gordon locally serves as one of the volunteers who collects manual wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes and parts. Once they are collected, they are sent to one of 15 prisons through out the United States where they are repaired and then sent through out the world to those in need, Gordon said. He can be emailed at email@example.com or more information about other collection points can be found at www.joniandfriends.org
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher