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UMPI Bio-Med Club collaborates with Partners for World Health

The University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Bio-Med Club, through its partnership with the Maine-based, non-profit organization Partners for World Health [PWH], is working at the local level to make a global impact. The Bio-Med Club has asked local medical facilities for donations of medical supplies that the club will transfer to PWH so the organization can distribute them to developing countries.

Abigail Riitano, a UMPI senior majoring in Biology and President of the Bio-Med Club, has been at the head of this effort. Through initial contact with PWH member Kaitlyn Fourre, who happened to be in Presque Isle doing a medical rotation, Riitano and the Bio-Med Club learned about this non-profit organization and decided to get involved.

“This has been a very exciting venture,” Riitano said. “I am extremely happy that this important work is happening in northern Maine as we are saving items that would have gone to waste and, by doing so, improving the lives and health of many underprivileged people.”

The PWH is a non-profit organization based in South Portland. They strive to reduce medical waste while improving global well-being by recycling medical supplies that need to be discarded because of U.S. government regulations. According to the organization, these supplies are perfectly capable of reuse or repurposing. Such donations have a low impact on those donating but a major impact on developing countries that receive them.

“PWH is expanding and reaching out to universities to involve students in our recycling program,” Elizabeth McLellan, founder and President of PWH, said. “Much work has been done in Presque Isle under Abi’s leadership and we are delighted to reach out to all hospitals and nursing homes and private individuals in the area so we can make sure nothing is discarded.”

Since Riitano reached out to Aroostook County medical facilities, the Bio-Med Club has received a large donation from TAMC. Donated supplies include I.V. tubing, patient beds, infant warmers, wheelchairs, physical therapy and occupational therapy supplies, a Urology chair, and a variety of other equipment. Over a period of three to four months, $100,000 (depreciated value) worth of equipment was prepared for shipment.

“This is an awesome way to ensure the health and future of our worldly partners in medicine,” said Mark Bourgoin, TAMC’s project chair. “I do have to hand it to Abi and her college chapter; more than 60% of the items were relocated to the storage area using their personal vehicle. Once they realized what was left, they needed to find a larger vehicle, either with ramps or a lift gate, to move the heavier items. We hope we can continue to partner on this effort in the future.”

The Bio-Med Club initially planned to deliver these supplies by car to southern Maine for distribution, but, due to the size of the donations, that wasn’t a possibility. This left the club scrambling for a temporary storage space large enough to hold the donations until PWH is able to bring up a truck to retrieve and transport the TAMC donations. Luckily for the club, local business Storage Solutions stepped forward to help. The Houlton Road business generously provided a space large enough to temporarily hold all of the medical supplies.

“Storage Solutions was very happy to partner with UMPI and other local businesses to make this happen,” Shawn Manter, President of Manter Properties and owner of Storage Solutions, said. “This is a very worthy program and a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved.  Being a UMPI alum myself, this was a no-brainer. I wish them the best of luck with the project!”

In addition, Parker K. Bailey and Sons movers donated a truck and three men to help the club move the big donations from TAMC to Storage Solutions.

“Parker K. Bailey & Sons, Inc. is happy to be in partnership with Partners for World Health and we look forward to continuing our partnership when we can,” owner Mark Bailey said.

All of these contributions from County businesses and organizations have left the Bio-Med Club with a deep appreciation for the region’s generosity and inspired to continue their efforts.

“We have received an extremely generous donation from TAMC and great interest in donating from other medical facilities,” Riitano said. “We also owe many thanks to the tremendous generosity of Storage Solutions and Parker K. Bailey and Sons movers for helping us with storage and transport of the donations. We are well on our way to making a global impact as the donations will soon be transported to Portland to be sterilized and sent overseas.”

While gathering donated medical supplies is at the heart of the partnership between PWH and UMPI, PWH is interested in connecting with the University and its students in additional ways. Assistant Professor of Biology Scott Dobrin said that PWH has offered to stream lectures at UMPI. If there is enough interest, Dobrin said that the organization has even offered to send semi-regular speakers.

“In addition to helping people around the world, our students will obtain first-hand knowledge on the ‘soft skills’ involved in running a non-profit,” Dr. Dobrin said. “Already their skills in networking, working with community businesses, and logistical management have been tested and grown. This is far more than a resume builder for the students organizing this effort—they will develop the tools to make them successful in any workplace.”

Riitano and the Bio-Med Club hope this is the first step toward beginning an Aroostook County chapter of PWH. This would help in establishing a “northern Maine pipeline” to more efficiently transport medical supply donations to Bangor and Portland and beyond. The Bio-Med Club invites community members to connect if they have interest in establishing and participating in this effort. For more information or to help start the chapter, please contact the UMPI Bio-Med Club at 343-1267 or abi.riitano@maine.edu.

For more information about Partners for World Health, please check out their website at http://www.partnersforworldhealth.org/.