How One Nurse’s Compassionate Heart and Eye for Waste found a Surprising New Role for Clean Plastic Bags

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GE DIGITAL CAMERABy Hayley Brugos

“I hate waste,” says nurse Nancy Griffith. “I really do. And I love the fact that Global Links puts so many materials that would otherwise be discarded to such good use.”

Nancy has been working at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center since 2006. There, she happened to notice that due to stringent regulations, chemotherapy medications are double bagged, with the outer zip-closure bag never touching the containers of drugs inside the inner bag. The outer bags were discarded when the drugs were delivered. 

Nancy has also been at Global Links and knew that all of the supplies the organization sends are packed in zip-closure plastic bags, which keeps them clean and separated by size and type. She had heard staff members lamenting a lack of clean, sturdy bags to send supplies to hospitals all over the world. 

Purchasing bags would be expensive for this non-profit organization, which has been recovering medical surplus to improve health and save lives since 1989. And Nancy herself has been on nine medical service trips, has seen firsthand the health inequities that Global Links addresses, and understands that a way to store supplies that keeps them clean and organized would be very valuable. 

Surplus here, need there — another example how two problems can have one solution, one of the founding principles of Global Links. Nancy organized her fellow nurses and other staff members and they began setting aside the bags for Global Links, where they are a valued commodity in the organization’s packing and sorting center. Hillman donates many unused medical materials which could not be put back into its system due to liability and other regulations – IV supplies, wound dressings, tracheostomy care kits. When a patient’s treatment plan changes, materials like these can become unnecessary. But it took creativity and an understanding of the needs that arise both in the Global Links sorting process and in the field to realize that the simple plastic bag could improve the quality of medical donations. 

Nancy is one of many nurses in western Pennsylvania and beyond who play a role in improving health not just for their own patients, but for patients in all the communities with which Global Links works. By setting aside unneeded surplus items, large and small, for Global Links, our region’s nurses are supporting their colleagues in resource-poor areas around the world and helping them provide the best care possible. Global Links Suture Donation Program and Medical Service Trip Program are worldwide and provide life-saving medical materials that are usually packed into plastic bags and then hand-carried in luggage. Global Links also sends 40-foot containers on cargo ships to the poorest countries in this hemisphere. 

Nancy’s own experiences make her especially aware of health conditions in limited resource communities around the world. She recently returned from a trip to Haiti that was led by Pittsburgh physician Dr. Phil Lenko. The group worked in Ouanaminthe to provide surgical services to the community, and Nancy served as a pre- and post-operative nurse for many of the procedures performed. A nurse since 1981, she has worked in San Francisco, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as Pittsburgh. 

This nurse’s global viewpoint, compassionate heart, and keen eye for unnecessary waste led her to see what no one else had – that a simple, clean plastic bag could improve medical donations.  

Hayley Brugos is Medical Outreach Manager at Global Links, www.globallinks.org. You can contact her at [email protected]