Is It Really Better Than Nothing?
We just got back from the Medical Surplus Recovery Meeting sponsored by Partnership for Quality Medical Donations in Atlanta, and it was a great opportunity to network with other organizations, share our best practices and talk about the challenges we all share. I could go on for days about what I learned and for months putting into practice some good ideas we shared, but there was one story that really stuck with me. An aid worker shared an experience that highlighted the role that quality plays in the success or failure of the clinics, hospitals and patients we exist to help.
This aid worker talked about a shipment to a rural hospital in Ghana that wasn’t just unhelpful – it actually made the hospital director and his facility worse off for having received it. (This container didn’t come from MedWish, by the way.)
The director coordinated and paid for a container full of what he expected to be lifesaving medical supplies for the hospital. When the container arrived, though, it was filled with broken equipment, unusable supplies and other damaged goods. The community had hung their hopes on a container to make their hospital safer and better able to serve patients, and those hopes were dashed when it arrived.
The disappointment among the hospital staff and the community quickly turned to anger. Some people actually spit on the director who ordered the shipment. He lost so much support that he nearly had to shut down his hospital. The container he expected to help save lives was in fact a very expensive shipment of what was essentially garbage.
There’s a lesson to be learned in stories with unhappy endings: It is incredibly important for MedWish to work with all our partners – the hospitals giving us supplies, the volunteers who sort, the humanitarian aid workers who carry shipments – to make sure that people are asking for and receiving exactly what they need.
What’s great about MedWish and our partners is our resourceful nature. But we have to temper this desire to make do with consideration for how helpful some things really are. “It’s better than nothing,” is not a sentiment that applies to every donation that comes through our doors, and we can’t compromise when it comes to quality. It’s not just our reputation on the line. It’s our recipients’ reputation, and their patients’ lives, that we ultimately affect.