If the year 2020 is deserving of nothing else; it will go down in modern history as the year that brought focus to the plight of people needing help.
It is a need manifested in many ways. There was widespread demand for addressing the medical needs of people; often serious medical needs. There was the need for personal protection equipment (PPE) and other supplies needed by medical personnel. There was the need to look after those who were isolated, including the mental health of children.
Somebody had to address all of these needs in the face of an international pandemic that has impacted the lives of every person on Earth. In addition to the new set of concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic, there were the existing health care needs of people in developing countries that were intensified with the onset of transmission of a dangerous virus.
Many charitable organizations already exist to provide specialized medical treatment to people in developing countries, provide medical equipment and expertise or prepare medical equipment for its next chapter.
These organizations have a challenging mission in a good year. Throw in the numerous complications that arise from a pandemic, and the response to it, and the effort to help patients and health care providers becomes problematic. Still, they have adopted mitigation measures and pressed on.
Some organizations who rely on the talents of biomeds include MedShare, Medical Missions, Operation Smile, MedWish and Mercy Ships; to name a few.
Members of the healthcare technology management (HTM) community have already made a difference by volunteering with these organizations and others. The skill set that biomeds possess is desperately needed when medical equipment is the difference between life and death in places that can’t afford to staff enough biomedical professionals.
Volunteers should be aware that there are still COVID-19 protocols that exist with most organizations, depending on location. For volunteer opportunities that are U.S.-based, many charitable organizations have mitigation requirements that reflect those of the local municipality.
International opportunities require more safeguards because infection rates vary widely depending on the locale. It is best to consult with the charitable organization ahead of time and be aware of requirements.
Biomeds are needed by charitable organizations to repair, calibrate, inspect and install medical equipment that is often donated. Sometimes, the skills of experienced biomeds are also needed to train local biomeds, who have less experience.
“Biomedical technicians ensure that we can bring state-of-the-art medical equipment to even the most rural and remote hospitals,” says Operation Smile’s website.
The organization has hosted volunteers from more than 80 countries and works in 34 countries to provide surgeries to children born with a cleft palate or cleft lip.
The surgeries that the organization provides can help a child with eating, breathing and speaking. The organization provides care to more than 19,000 children every year. Operation Smile also helps local health care professionals through training and education.
Some of the qualifications the organization looks for in biomeds include: a minimum of one-year experience in the operating room or a minimum of three-years’ experience in non-OR setting, hold a related degree and/or certifications (CBET recommended) and registered in specialty (as applicable by country/profession).
The June 2020 Professional of the Month, Kenneth Shearer, CBET, CET, provided some insights into volunteering as a biomed with Operation Smile.
“I was in charge of all the equipment that we brought. I had to unpack and check all the equipment, set up the OR rooms, manage the gases and pack all the equipment back up when we were done. They were long days,” he said.
He helped out in all areas from transporting patients to running for supplies.
“I helped out wherever I was needed. I even helped the local biomed of the host hospital fix their equipment,” Shearer explained.
According to its website, “MedWish International is a not-for-profit organization that saves lives and the environment by repurposing discarded medical supplies and equipment to provide humanitarian aid to people in need.”
The organization’s site says that “MedWish repurposes unused medical supplies and equipment, while promoting better health and environmental stewardship.”
MedWish works with health care partners in Northeast Ohio to recover usable medical surplus. They are based in Cleveland.
Recently, the organization rallied to collect oxygen concentrators to send to India as the country faced a massive COVID-19 surge. Contact them for volunteer opportunities.
Like MedWish, MedShare puts unused medical equipment and supplies to good use to help patients in medically underserved areas.
The organization’s website states that they are “dedicated to improving the quality of life of people, communities and our planet by sourcing and directly delivering surplus medical supplies and equipment to communities in need around the world.”
“We have a need for clinical or biomedical engineers in all the various specialties including servicing and maintaining all medical equipment with mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, electronic, digital, optical and radiological principles,” says Eben Amstrong, director of biomedical engineering training and technical services at MedShare in Decatur, Georgia.
He says that the organization can use clinical or biomedical engineers who can also perform calibrations and preventive maintenance, inspect equipment for serviceability, perform operational checkout procedures, troubleshoot and isolate malfunctions, replace and repair defective components, install medical equipment considering power and safety requirements and record all services performed.
There are a number of ways that the skill set of an experienced HTM professional can help the organization.
“To evaluate equipment for donations as required by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Troubleshoot, repair, service, maintain and inspect the performance of donated medical equipment to ensure accuracy,” Amstrong says.
He says that biomeds can also help the organization by converting equipment to the appropriate voltage, temperature, weight, etcetera as required by the receiving country (recipient) and by carrying on safety tests using a safety analyzer to prevent potential hazards and to ascertain to include with each piece of equipment all the necessary accessories/consumables.
Amstrong also says that biomeds are needed to prepare, clean and bubble wrap equipment for shipment as well as to help with the international training of end-users and biomedical technicians, along with repairs and installations of donated medical equipment.
Medical Missions Foundation’s “mission is to provide surgical and medical care in underserved communities throughout the world and to positively impact the lives of children and their families.”
Among the organization’s objectives are to provide surgical and medical care for children and adults and to provide donated medical equipment and supplies to economically depressed areas. Additionally, the not-for-profit provides medical training to local health care providers. There is a need for volunteers in the metro Kansas City area.
Visit their website to learn more.
Mercy Ships brings us the sad reminder that globally; one child in eight will die before age five. The organization deploys hospital ships to reduce this grim statistic. The organization has launched five hospital ships to accomplish its mission. In the past, it was the Good Samaritan, the Caribbean Mercy and then the Anastasis, that sailed until 2007, which was replaced by the Africa Mercy, which provides medical services today.
The newest hospital ship, the Global Mercy, “will be the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, capable of more than doubling our current surgical and training capacity,” according to the organization’s website. The Global Mercy is expected to set sail and be put into service in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.
As an organization that brings important medical services to underserved areas of the world, they use doctors and nurses to perform surgeries on the ships and teach medical professionals on the ground. Mercy Ships primary focus is Africa.
This requires medical equipment, and by extension, skilled biomeds.
The organization is focused on filling the role of Biomedical Project Assistants currently and then the Biomedical Technician role in the second half of 2022.
“In Antwerp, the Biomedical Project Assistants will be key in the final preparations of the equipping phase for our brand-new ship; the Global Mercy. This project is focused on initial setup and deployment. The Biomedical Project Assistants will be responsible for deploying all medical equipment used in the hospital including, but not limited to, radiology, pharmacy, operating rooms, clean core, intensive care units, simulation training rooms, pre- and post-operative rooms, wards, nursing stations, and sterilization decontamination rooms,” says Sheryl Forward, medical recruiter for Mercy Ships.
She says that on the African Mercy and Global Mercy in 2022, those filling the biomedical technician role will be a part of the hospital team as they offer specialized surgical care to the people of Senegal.
“The biomedical technician will perform preventative maintenance of medical equipment as directed by the senior biomedical technician. They are a vital aspect of the team and are needed to ensure the equipment is working properly so we can provide the highest level of care possible to our patients,” Forward says.
As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Mercy Ships organization has to continue to observe mitigation procedures.
“Before boarding the vessels in Antwerp or Senegal, there will be a quarantine period at a local hotel. Mercy Ships will cover this cost. At this time, it is mandatory to wear a mask on the ship when not in your cabin. Being vaccinated is encouraged, but not mandatory,” Forward says.
“In 2022, we will not be staffed at 100 percent capacity to reduce the number of crew on the ships. Also, we will not be utilizing all the ORs and this is to reduce the number of patients who will be in the wards,” she adds.
She says that there is mandatory COVID-19 testing upon arrival; further testing as needed.
Those with any additional questions may email questions to email@example.com.
Many HTM professionals found themselves volunteering last year in roles they could not have imagined six months earlier. Most of the volunteering came out of an immediate need; often because of a scarcity of PPE or standing up a COVID-19 surge unit or helping in other ways.
“I am a senior clinical engineer for McLaren Health Care in Michigan. As the pandemic started, I was furloughed from my job, so I immediately started working on fabricating face shields for health care PPE in my newly found spare time,” says Pam Shuck, MS, CCE.
She says that although the shields only required a few parts (headband, foam, plastic shield, double sided tape), materials were difficult to obtain because there was such a shortage throughout the entire country.
“Prototypes were made and given to clinicians for feedback. But after only one week, I was called on to assist bringing up a 1,000-bed field hospital in Detroit, so I went back to work full time. I worked alongside team members from the Michigan National Guard, Detroit Police, Air National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Henry Ford Hospital, the Department of Veterans Affairs and dozens of other organizations to turn the large TCF exhibition hall into patient ready beds,” Shuck says.
She says that throughout this effort, she and her family were still fabricating and donating face shields to local hospitals, ambulance companies, senior citizen homes and doctor’s/dentist’s offices.
“I donated a total of 2,500 free face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to fund all the free face shields, I developed and applied for three patents for musical instrument’s PPE and musicians’ face shields. These were sold to many musicians and school band programs,” Shuck adds.
Most biomeds who have had experience with volunteering their time and skills have found great rewards from the experience. The feeling of doing something that makes a real difference in the lives of those who are medically underserved is a rewarding experience.
The past year and a half has proven that volunteer experiences and needs can be found closer to home also. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic called many biomeds into action in their roles on the job as well as in volunteer roles.
HTM skills are needed.
For more information about volunteering visit:
Operation Smile: operationsmile.org/medical-volunteer
Medical Missions Foundation: medicalmissionsfoundation.org/volunteer/
Mercy Ships: mercyships.org
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