"Welcome to the Home of Warrior Care," reads a sign as you walk into the now empty structure of what used to be Washington D.C.'s Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a place where ailing government officials, Army brass, retired officers and thousands of grievously injured soldiers arrived for 102 years -- the latter from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea and bombed-out Europe -- to begin the long road to healing.
At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I walk down several long hallways, trailing behind Pilar Heraud. Pilar is the Director of In-Kind Donations for the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).
Hopping into a large industrial-size elevator, we ride up to one of the top floors. As I exit near a set of windows, I can see old brick historic buildings scattered across a portion of the more than 113 acres of rolling hills, gardens and forest that surround the hospital. Here, we're standing on top of several floors and more than 5,500 deserted patient rooms, labs, nursing stations, therapy rooms, offices, operating rooms filled with medical equipment that is being readied for shipping to other facilities in the U.S. and abroad, auctioned off or simply left to their eventual demise under a wrecking ball.
"Almost everything you see here can be packed and shipped. It's amazing how much good equipment is available," says Pilar. Her goal is to inventory the best equipment she can find and ship it.
What used to be state-of-the-art medical equipment that once helped wounded soldiers recover from their injuries, directly or indirectly, is now U.S. government excess property. Yet despite this, the equipment is often in mint condition, allowing organizations like PADF to pack it up and send it off to medical facilities that will use it.
As Pilar moves from one room to another, keeping a tally of what she will use, she decides on the spot the destination of each item. Within days, operating room lights, examination tables, medicine cabinets, adjustable tray tables, pill dispensers, medical carts, stools, bunk beds, chairs, and other equipment -- including two full-size nursing stations and a $1.2 million CT scanner -- begin to make their way into 40-foot containers. There are seven in total. Within weeks, these shipments will reach a hospital in Colombia's western Nariño Department, a nonprofit organization in Bolivia, a Haitian orphanage in Léogâne, clinics in Port-au-Prince, a charitable organization in Uruguay and a university in Santiago, Chile.
PADF sends medical equipment to facilities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to improve health services for local residents and reduce service costs. In the last five years alone, PADF has worked with the U.S. government General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as other partners to deliver more than $26 million worth of in-kind donations, much of it medically related, giving new life to otherwise decommissioned equipment.
For many organizations, a donation like the one from Walter Reed can mean the difference between upgrading aging equipment and having to increase health care costs in order to afford new equipment.
"As a Bolivian nonprofit organization, it is difficult for PROSALUD to replace medical equipment," says Frank Luis Fernandez, an official with the institution. "The donation will help our organization keep offering quality medical services to the Bolivian population at reduced costs."
Good lighting in operating rooms, comfortable beds for patients, sturdy cabinets to keep medicines safely and quality furniture for examinations can often be a certainty in countries like the U.S. where health care facilities are often modern and well stocked. But that is not always the case in other parts of the world, even in the growing economies.
"Donated medical equipment can greatly benefit not only the institutions that receive it but, more importantly, the many people who visit these facilities," says Pilar. "Reutilizing this equipment is not only good stewardship of resources, but also an act of generosity in favor of those who have less."