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Third-World Countries Benefit from Conscientious Nurses Project Cure

Monday January 29, 2007
<B>Sorting Team Leader Lourdes Hechanova, RN, BSN, left, and Project CURE Executive Director Chris Robison at the Project CURE Benevolence Foundation warehouse in Houston.</B>
Sorting Team Leader Lourdes Hechanova, RN, BSN, left, and Project CURE Executive Director Chris Robison at the Project CURE Benevolence Foundation warehouse in Houston.
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Instead of throwing away old hospital beds, leftover sutures, and unused medical tubing, medical facilities are donating them to Project Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment, better known as Project CURE, an organization that distributes the donations to third world countries.

Claudette Ellorin-Revote, RN, BSN, Consolacion A. Nacino-Gonzalvo, RN, and Karon Thomson, RN, (left to right) nurses at Memorial Hermann/Memorial City Hospital in Houston, place medical supplies in a box designated for Project CURE.
Donations to Project CURE are collected in warehouses and sorted into 150 categories for packing and shipping. Nurses, naturally, are a critical part of the process.

Sorting team leader Su Labashosky, RN, BSN (left), a clinical information specialist for McKesson in Phoenix, shows Sylvia Elliott how to look up medical supplies and sort them into the correct boxes.
"Most of our volunteers don't have a medical background, so it is really valuable to have someone who does manage the sorting process," says Barb Sagel, RN, CCRN, MSN, a sorting team leader in Denver. Supplies, often many items mixed in one large box, come from a variety of sources.

"We dump boxes out on the table and have books that tell [us] what things are," says Su Labashosky, BSN, RN, a volunteer who leads a sorting team in the Phoenix area. "We shelve things according to the numbers, then pack specific things in boxes, label and seal them, and send them to the warehouse."

Nurses are key in the organization's efforts to collect supplies. Many nurses who volunteer at the warehouse are aware that hospital staff can be extremely wasteful with supplies, says Sagel.

That's true for Becky Parkinson, RN, a staff nurse on the transplant floor at the University of Colorado Hospital. She started collecting unused medical supplies from patients' rooms that normally are considered waste. To encourage other nurses' participation, she placed a box in the nurses' station labeled "Project CURE."

Parkinson also travelled to Rwanda on a Project CURE clinic trip where medical professionals deliver supplies and help provide care.

"They didn't even have alcohol swabs, four by fours, or anything," she says. "I come back [to Colorado] and we're throwing stuff away left and right. If something is going to be thrown away anyway, all [nurses] have to do is put it somewhere else."

Originally from the Phillippines, sorting team leader Lourdes Hechanova, RN, BSN, a staff nurse at Memorial Hermann/Memorial City Hospital in Houston, knows firsthand the importance of conserving medical supplies.

"I know what it is like to wash gloves and re-sterilize them. I know how hard it is to deliver health care in a third-world country," she says. "With Project CURE, I can help and I don't even have to travel."

Project CURE President and CEO Doug Jackson, PhD, is fully aware that nurses are the organization's greatest ambassadors, not only because they recognize the imortance of providing quality patient care, but also because they can encourage donations at their workplaces.

"Our goal is to have 25 major distribution centers across the U.S., one in every major medical hub," says Jackson. "We have seven now, and each [center] produces about a semi-truck trailer a week of supplies and equipment. There are roughly 120 third world countries, and we could place 10 semi-truck trailers into every one of them. That sounds huge, but we delivered 10 containers in Nigeria last year and didn't make a dent. There's not a chance we would ever have more than we need."

Project CURE currently has warehouses operating in Denver, Phoenix, Houston, St. Paul, Minn., and Nashville, Tenn.

According to Jackson, donations come to Project CURE for a variety of reason, but many healthcare facilities donate because the expense of storing unused items can be significant.

"When you're in a hurry to turn over an ER room, for example, the temptation is to throw everything in the red bag," Jackson says. "Cut that by a third or a half and you save money. We're trying to get buckets and bins in every procedure room, where nursing staff knows if it's good and clean, it goes in that container."

Labashosky, who worked in the OR for 30 years, says it is a matter of changing peoples' way of thinking. "I've seen the OR evolve from everything being reused to everything being disposable. People take it so lightly. They think, 'Oh, I'll just open another one.' By saving as much as we can, we help other people. It helps us, too, because it doesn't go into the landfill."

Project CURE even picks up donations.

"All the hospital has to do is set things aside and not throw them away," says Labashosky. "It's all sent to the loading dock, a truck picks it up and takes it to our sorting center. It's not a lot of work."

Project CURE will also collect materials from surrounding areas, so nurses almost anywhere can help the organization collect materials. Donated supplies are sent only to hospitals Project CURE officials have visited to assess the level of need. The receiving hospital pays for shipping of the materials.

Another bonus of volunteering for Project CURE is that it is a completely different experience that uses nurses' expertise, says Sagel.

"I volunteered at a free medical clinic, but that was too much like my day job, Other places I've volunteered, it doesn't even matter that I'm a nurse. Project CURE brings me the best of both worlds," Sagel says.

Hechanova said she had the opportunity to meet some recipients and see how appreciative they were to receive needed medical supplies.

"A nurse told me that in India, they only have metal pans for the autoclaves, and they don't work right. When she saw the [donated] trays, she said that was like gold over there. Bandage scissors are like gold there. I realized how valuable equipment that we take for granted can be," she says.

Not long ago, in Malawi, located in southeast Africa, Jackson saw a storeroom full of supplies from Project CURE, and he had the opportunity to ask a nurse if the organization had saved some lives.

"Oh no," the nurse replied. "Not some lives. Many, many lives."

Melissa Gaskill is a freelance writer for NurseWeek. To comment on this story, send e-mail to editorsc@nurseweek.com. For more information on Project Cure, visit www.projectcure.org.

Local Volunteers

Houston is a major Project CURE medical hub because it is home of the Texas Medical Center and dozens of hospitals. Erlinda Demeterio, a nutritionist for the Harris County Hospital District and a previous volunteer for Project CURE in Denver, helped establish Houston's 50,000 square foot Project CURE warehouse. It is beginning to produce approximately two 40-foot shipping containers a month, which Houston Project CURE Executive Director Chris Robison says equates to about $80,000 worth of medical supplies.

"A lot of the work is letting people know," Demeterio says. "It is such a huge city until you build relationships and make connections with the appropriate individuals and organizations. I worked through the minority groups, specifically Filipino-Americans. All the sorting team leaders here are nurses I recruited."

There are approximately 700 volunteers working in the Houston warehouse. Memorial Hermann Medical Missions recently donated retired respiratory equipment and the Methodist Hospital operating room donated seven boxes of supplies. With 588 hospitals in Texas, the potential volume through Houston is huge, Robison says.

Lucena M. DeVilla, RN, MSN, administrator at Medical Insight and Care Unlimited, is one of seven newly trained sorting team leaders.

"Project CURE is a good way to put together the supplies with the need," she says. "I encourage nurses to volunteer. Sorting of supplies and equipment is easy. OR nurses know exactly what is needed in an OR package, for example. It doesn't take much orientation or training, they already know."