In 1989, Pittsburgh native Kathleen Hower was one of three young women with a big idea: to meet critical medical supply needs in countries suffering the effects of poverty, natural disasters, political unrest, and other conditions by capturing and redirecting the vast tonnage of surplus materials discarded by U.S. hospitals each year.
The nonprofit that Kathleen co-founded, Global Links, became the first organization in the United States with a mission to systematically recover and reuse surplus hospital supplies that would otherwise make their way to landfills. Under her leadership, Global Links has grown from a small grassroots organization to a recognized national leader in medical material recovery, with partnerships throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
In resource-poor communities, healthcare facilities often lack the supplies and equipment necessary to provide even basic care to their patients, resulting in needless suffering and deaths. Global Links has responded to this crisis with nearly 600 tractor-trailer loads of donations, improving the quality of care for tens of thousands, and in some communities, making medical care available where before there was none.
“We recover only high-quality and still highly useful materials, and we send them only to where they are needed through a detailed matching process that supports national goals of universal health coverage and capacity building,” says Hower.
As a national leader in medical surplus recovery, Global Links provides expertise and leadership in helping hospitals in the U.S. lessen their environmental footprint. By creating programs that work within a hospital’s business model, Global Links manages the collection of unused supplies such as gloves, sutures, gauze, and bandages, as well as larger equipment such as beds, wheelchairs, and exam and O.R. tables. All materials are transported to Global Links headquarters in Pittsburgh, where they are sorted, refurbished, and packaged for shipment by staff and teams of staff-led volunteers.
“Global Links is showing how providing care doesn’t have to be an ‘either them or us’ kind of thing. Pittsburgh is a great city, we can do both, and Global Links has been doing both for a long time” Hower says. “I would like to see a more and more integrated system of recovery of medical materials. The surplus materials are out there, the need is certainly present. Global Links is working and perfecting their system within the healthcare community and within the local community to recover and redirect more materials where they are most needed. I believe what we are accomplishing here in Pittsburgh can be a model for other cities.”