In January of 2012, TechNation ran a cover story titled “Biomeds Give Back – Surprising ways to use your skills for the greater good,” that looked at ways that HTM professionals could volunteer their time with worthy organizations. Many of these organizations provide medical care or reconditioned medical equipment to hospitals in developing countries. The need for working medical equipment in many poor areas of the world is great.
Places like Haiti, many African nations, eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, have a need for modern medical equipment, medical supplies and medical training for their clinicians. Through the resources of several charitable organizations in the U.S., many of these needs are met.
In the central valley of California, Medical Ministries International (MMI) has been on a mission to recycle new and used medical equipment and supplies and provide them to clinics and hospitals in underserved areas around the world. The Christian-based nonprofit organization was incorporated on October 30, 1998. The organization has warehouses in Clovis and Fowler, California.
The used medical equipment that the organization collects through donations needs to be serviced, inspected, calibrated and packaged for shipment. While there is a need for HTM volunteers, there is also a need to have an HTM professional as part of the staff to manage the maintenance, repairs and modifications that are in constant demand. Those shoes are filled by Tod Harris, MMI director of Bio-Med Equipment Technology.
It Takes a Biomed
“When finishing college and volunteering at one of the local hospitals, I was invited to a local California Medical Instrumentation Association (CMIA) meeting,” Harris says. “MMI was looking for a biomed technician to set up a biomed department at their local organization here in Fresno, California. The director of the hospital and the chairperson of our local CMIA spoke about the fact that I was looking for a job. The next thing I knew, I was contacted by MMI and asked to come in for an interview.”
Harris’s bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering technology and his associate degree of applied science in electronics and computer technology have proven instrumental in preparing him for a biomed career. He works part-time for MMI and volunteers with a local hospital’s biomed department. The volunteer work pays real-world dividends.
“This is a great resource to ask for ideas and help with equipment,” he says. “At times, other biomeds stop by the MMI warehouse to give their time, which is greatly appreciated. This helps out with the need for continuing my education. Due to constantly updated and changing medical equipment, and as technology continues to evolve, education is needed.”
He belongs to the San Joaquin Valley Chapter (SJVC) of CMIA. Harris says that CMIA holds meetings every other month and they are another great resource.
“In our SJVC chapter, it includes networking with other hospitals, vendors and a presentation on topics in the latest BMET field,” he says.
“Just knowing about the basics of how to repair some medical equipment, having worked for corporations in management and having my own business at one time is all I had to offer. MMI had medical supplies and all I could see was the medical equipment going to the dump. They needed a biomed to help out in this area. Now I’m working for MMI as their biomed tech and starting a department. This has been a real blessing to me and my entire family,” Harris says.
The work is not without some challenges. It’s one thing to provide functioning equipment, it’s another to send it with documentation.
“There can be some challenges on older medical equipment as to searching for manuals. All equipment that MMI sends out has manuals that we provide. This helps doctors [and] nurses, and if they have a technician, they can figure it out if a problem arises,” he says. “Troubleshooting, analyzing and quickly assessing the problem can be challenging also. There are only so many hours in a day, with more and more equipment coming in.”
Harris says that since medical equipment is changing at a faster pace, it means biomeds must keep up with the technology, while the older equipment seems new to individuals in some countries.
Getting the Word Out
How have the staff at MMI been able to get the word out about the need for medical equipment?
“The best way that I have found to get the word out about donations is by networking. Everywhere I go, I meet new people or old friends,” Harris says.
“During our conversations, the topic always turns to business. This is the perfect opportunity to bring up MMI, explain what they do and how I fit in. I let them know that we accept donations of all types,” he explains. “I hand them a couple of my business cards and encourage them to call if there is anything they can help us out with and also to please pass out my card.”
Harris says that equipment is one of the most needed and requested items from Medical Ministries International recipients.
“MMI receiving hospitals in third-world countries have a great need for ultrasounds, centrifuges, anesthesia machines, defibrillators, EKG recorders, exam lights and there is a lot more. [The] most important part of the equipment are accessories that attach to the equipment. This is not an easy task as we receive older equipment that the manufactures don’t support any more,” Harris explains.
He says that ISOs have proven to be a great place to look for the accessories.
“This is one of the areas that MMI was lacking in when receiving the equipment donation. As the new BioMed Director, I implemented a list of questions to ask before we receive donated equipment,” he says.
Harris points out that MMI recovery efforts save thousands of pounds of surplus medical supplies and equipment from landfills and incinerators that, for various regulatory reasons, hospitals and medical companies must discard.
“We accept donations of supplies and used biomedical equipment through our hospital recovery program, doctors and the community,” he says. “I am also going to implement a plan for donation from medical manufacturers and distributors.”
The good news is that Harris reports that the response is getting better every month with a new director, warehouse manager, and now a biomed tech.
“MMI is in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. We have cities and small towns north and south that are miles apart from each other for receiving donations,” he says.
“This is the first time that I’ve worked for charitable organizations. As time goes on, I feel better as a person. Knowing what I accomplish at MMI, helps others that I do not know in other countries,” Harris says.
“I also see a need in other countries; they need help with repairs and making sure that all medical equipment is working efficiently. At some point MMI would like to send a team of biomeds to help out in this area,” he adds. “It’s all about helping those in need and giving back to the people of the world. Working with MMI is a wonderful way of putting that into practice.”
Harris has proven that there are many ways that biomeds can be a blessing to patients everywhere. They don’t have to be close by.
For information about donating to MMI, visit www.medministries.org/donate/
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