In a hospital in Haiphong, Vietnam, a two-inch piece of suture is a high commodity, not to be tossed haphazardly into the trash.
In the United States, hospitals fearing lawsuits have long thrown out the gloves, surgical masks and instruments that are opened in the operating room and then go nearly untouched. But at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the non-profit group Remedy Inc. has spent the past 10 years saving the surplus supplies from the incinerator and routing them to hospitals in developing countries.
“The fact is that we have everything and everyone else has nothing,” said Darryl Rotman-Kuperstock, executive director of Remedy.
Dr. William H. Rosenblatt, president of Remedy and an associate professor of anesthesiology at the School of Medicine, developed a protocol in hospital operating rooms for staff to salvage opened but unused instruments and supplies. Remedy, or Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World, then enlists non-profit organizations with a strong footing in needy countries to distribute the supplies.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine estimate that American hospitals throw away 2,000 tons, or $200 million worth, of unused surgical supplies every year.
Rotman-Kuperstock said Remedy not only aids third-world countries but also promotes cost-efficiency in hospitals. Yale-New Haven Hospital has cut its waste of operating room supplies by 27 percent since the program’s inception.
During its first five years, Remedy focused on developing a standard set of procedures for operating room staff. Rosenblatt and Dr. David Silverman, vice president of Remedy, published their results in scientific journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association. More recently, Remedy has focused on teaching other hospitals how to develop their own redistribution systems. 280 other hospitals are known to be participating.
John Tangredi, a clinical service coordinator in the operating room of Yale-New Haven Hospital, has seen the conditions of hospitals in developing countries. He returned from a trip to Vietnam with other volunteer doctors and technicians last November.
“You close your eyes and you open them when you get there, and it’s like going back to 1960,” Tangredi said.
Vietnamese families living up to six hours away would bring their children to the hospital at which Tangredi and the other volunteers were based. The hospital was the only place in the area with the necessary medical supplies and doctors.
Tangredi said programs like Remedy provide medical supplies that are “invaluable” in developing countries where even the most rudimentary supplies are often sold at infeasible costs on the black market.
And at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Rotman-Kuperstock said Remedy boosts staff morale.
“We all feel terrible about throwing it away, but now we know it’s going to be used,” Tangredi said.