UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


Giving Back: UVA Program Finds a Home for Unused Medical Supplies

On June 19, 2012 | At 8:20 am

Healthcare facilities produce a lot of waste.

Loading supplies to go to Ghana.

Volunteers and UVA employees load supplies to be delivered to Ghana.

There’s medical waste like needles and used surgical gloves that needs to be disposed according to strict regulations.

But there’s also other kinds of waste. Unused or outdated supplies. So-called “disposable” items from prepackaged kits, like scissors, gauze and absorbent pads. At many hospitals, these items would end up in a landfill. But because of a program started at UVA in 1992, we send many of these items to good causes in the Charlottesville area and far beyond.

The MERCI Program

Trena Berg, RN, clinical manager in the operating room, has led UVA’s MERCI (Medical Equipment Recovery of Clean Inventory) Program since 2007, when she took over from Helen French, a UVA nurse who founded MERCI. Each Thursday, Berg and volunteers throughout the hospital sort through donated supplies and package them for delivery.

Because of the MERCI Program, many useful items go to organizations like the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, the Virginia Wildlife Center and the Charlottesville Pregnancy Center. Supplies are also used by faculty and staff who do research and those who go on medical mission trips around the world.

Helping Charlottesville’s Sister City in Ghana

In 2011, a 40-foot container of medical supplies was shipped by boat to Charlottesville’s sister city, Winneba, in the West African country of Ghana, and a second container was collected for Ghana this past April.

Charlottesville City Councilor Dave Norris and others from the city visited Winneba, Ghana, last year. Norris was Charlottesville’s mayor at the time, and he visited some of the clinics where the supplies were headed.

“These clinics are certainly good candidates for these supplies,” he says. “They’re under-resourced, and they’re serving a lot of people with minimal resources and to be able to have these supplies is really helpful.”

Medical supplies from UVA went to a number of clinics all over Ghana, not just in Winneba, Norris says.

“The healthcare system in Ghana is certainly more advanced than it is in some African countries, but it’s still rudimentary compared to ours.”

Charlottesville’s sister city partnership with Ghana includes much more than medical supplies. Charlottesville leaders and librarians are also lending support to Winneba as it builds its first public library. And there are plans in the works to develop an artist-in-residence program, where artists from Ghana would teach West African art, design and music in Charlottesville city schools. “They have such a rich cultural and artistic tradition there that we could benefit from,” says Norris.

The medical supplies donated to Ghana are much needed.

“The thing I really like about MERCI is they don’t just dump used, out-of-date equipment,” Norris says. “The supplies they’re donating are useful supplies.”

Recyling Medical Supplies at UVA

You might wonder why all these medical supplies aren’t reused at UVA. Don’t we have people who need those supplies in our own clinics and hospital? Actually, much of what MERCI volunteers collect is reused by the Health System, according to Berg.

“Seventy percent of what we get goes back into the system. The hospital is the first priority,” she says. “But the rest we cannot use.”

All medical supplies used at UVA have to be classified as “sterile,” not just “clean,” Berg says. Once products are opened, they are no longer considered sterile. Some products are re-sterilized, but in many cases, U.S. manufacturers won’t stand behind re-sterilized products or the FDA won’t allow those products to be reused, she says.

Berg even saves unused but opened gloves and gowns. Once the gowns are opened, they can’t be used for patient care. But they are used to train medical school students who are learning how to properly put on the gowns and gloves.

There are also cases where labs are disbanded because research projects are completed. Some items may be given to another lab, but we might not have a use for other items, says Berg.

Berg even gets donations from other hospitals and from family members or patients. She often picks up these donations herself.

The MERCI Program recently received a stairlift. Berg kept it in her basement until she could find someone who needed it. She talked to staff at the UVA Kluge Children’s Rehabilitation Center, and they found a family with a brain-damaged little girl who needed the stairlift.

“It’s a lot of networking” to find the right new owners for equipment and supplies, Berg says.

“I don’t believe in us wasting money. As much equipment as I can send back into the system, I do.”

Want to Find Out More About MERCI and Ghana?

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Stories from Rural Health Clinic To be Told on Stage Thursday

On April 17, 2012 | At 12:01 pm

Every July, the UVA volunteers who spend 30 hours providing free healthcare in southwest Virginia leave with many stories, some tragic, some uplifting. Emergency room nurse Tim Cunningham has turned those stories into a powerful one-man play.

Cunningham, according to a University of Virginia story, “conducted intimate, anonymous, one-on-one interviews with more than 30 patients” at the 2009 Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic in Wise County. He used those interviews to create 11 characters that he portrays in his play, “Out of Their Way.”

I’ve volunteered at RAM for three years and saw Cunningham’s play just before last year’s clinic. It was often poignant, sometimes funny, and I don’t think I was the only one tearing up at the end. This is well worth the 85 minutes out of your day.

Want to go?

The play is Thursday, April 19 at 4 p.m. in McLeod Hall Auditorium. (Driving? You can park in the Central Grounds Parking Garage or at the Corner; the McLeod garage is permit-only until 5 p.m.) It’s free and open to everyone.

Read More about the Remote Area Medical Clinic

We’ve got photos, volunteer stories and more from the 2011 clinic.

Filed under : Nursing,The People of UVA,Volunteering | By
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Top 10 Posts of 2011: Which is Your Favorite?

On December 29, 2011 | At 8:51 am

Like many of you, we’re taking a moment before the start of the new year to pause and reflect on the highlights of 2011.

Top 10 UVA Health System Blog Posts of 2011Considering what’s been of interest to you will help us bring you even more to enjoy in the coming months.

So, here are the most-read stories from our blog in 2011. Drumroll, please!

  1. The most popular story of 2011 inspires: UVA Nurse, Marathoner Has Shot at the Olympics
  2. Great pictures and a worthwhile cause: Photos from Remote Area Medical Clinic (RAM) 2011
  3. Always a favorite: Women’s Four Miler in the News
  4. Debbie Ryan’s story is a must-read: Pancreatic Cancer: Debbie Ryan and Why You Should Care
  5. Who doesn’t like cute photos of dogs helping kids? Pet Therapy Dogs
  6. How you can get help Preparing for Childbirth: One Expectant Mother Tells Her Story
  7. Everyone needs to know more about how to have a Happy Healthy Thanksgiving
  8. What to look for when it comes to Poisonous Snakes: Just Leave Them Alone
  9. A sweet, uplifting look at our tiniest patients: Breastfeeding in the NICU
  10. What you need to know about Spiders: Fact vs. Fiction

What’s Your Favorite Story?

Take a minute and let us know – which is your favorite story from our blog? What topics do you want us to cover in 2012? Leave a comment with your choices and ideas below.

Also: Read about the health system’s research, innovations and other highlights in 2011


Family’s Cancer Battle Inspires Teen to Study Nursing

On December 13, 2011 | At 8:51 am

Darcy Alimenti spent much of her teen years watching her mother and brother fight cancer.

Nursing student volunteer Darcy Alimenti with a UVA emergency room visitor.

Darcy Alimenti (left) helps a visitor during her volunteer shift in UVA's emergency room.

First, her older brother was diagnosed with leukemia during her freshman year of high school.

She visited him when he stayed overnight at UVA Children’s Hospital, accompanied him on clinic visits, watched him get spinal taps and learned to change his dressings at home.

While he was still undergoing treatment, her mother developed leiomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.

A Passion for Nursing

While Alimenti’s brother was getting cancer treatment, a nurse mentioned UVA’s junior volunteer summer program. Alimenti signed up.

Junior volunteers work in UVA’s gift shop, escort guests to their destinations, deliver flowers and mail and ensure patients are comfortable. They’re required to volunteer weekly, but Alimenti went in twice a week, eventually racking up 350 hours over three summers.

“I absolutely loved it,” she recalls. “I loved being with patients, being able to give back to this hospital that had been keeping my brother alive.”

She realized she enjoyed interacting with patients more than anything.

“I definitely developed this passion for nursing.”

Standout Applicant

UVA Cancer Center volunteer Sara Templeman worked with Alimenti once and was impressed. “Darcy just knew the whole thing,” she says. “She saw what was needed and would take care of it without any direction. She was also very good with the patients, stopping to talk with them.”

Templeman is a member of the Hospital Auxiliary, a group of employees and volunteers. The auxiliary awards its annual Dawson Junior Volunteer Scholarship to an exceptional junior volunteer who has been accepted or is enrolled in a health care degree program.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Alimenti’s senior year at Monticello High School, she was accepted into the UVA School of Nursing and applied for the scholarship.

Her many hours of hospital volunteering stood out, but so did her high grades and contributions to other organizations. Alimenti also volunteered for the American Red Cross and at a local family health provider and helped organize fundraisers for cancer research.

The long list of accomplishments made Alimenti the obvious choice for the $2,500 scholarship.

More surprising, though, is that she got it again in 2011, after continuing her hospital volunteer work and being named to UVA’s Dean’s List.

“It’s certainly unusual to give the scholarship two years in a row, but Darcy really stood out,” Templeman says. “She’s volunteered all over the hospital, practically every area you can think of. She’s done it all cheerfully and with a smile on her face.”

Alimenti now volunteers weekly through Madison House, UVA’s student volunteer organization. She’s currently volunteering in the emergency room, helping patients and their families. That work is more stressful, she says, but she’s never forgotten how it felt to be there with a patient.

Want to Volunteer?

Hospital volunteers can work directly with patients or help behind the scenes. Learn more about the Junior Volunteers program and other volunteer opportunities at the hospital.


“Know That We Are Here for You”: Handwritten Notes from a Breast Cancer Survivor

On October 27, 2011 | At 8:15 am

Sione Wade’s battle with stage I breast cancer was almost eight years ago and relatively brief. A last-minute appointment enabled her to get a lumpectomy the same week she was diagnosed. She’s been cancer-free ever since.

breast cancer patient and volunteer Sione Wade

Sione Wade

But Wade’s never forgotten the phone call from her doctor, the decision about whether to undergo radiation or anything else about her illness. So two years later, she went back to the UVA Breast Care Center, this time as a weekly volunteer.

“I wanted to volunteer here because everybody is so sweet, so kind, so compassionate,” she says.  “When I was diagnosed, my husband told me, ‘This experience can either make you bitter or better.’ And I said, ‘Ain’t no way it’s going to make me bitter.’”

Her main job as a volunteer? She puts together kits for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients that include this personal note:

Be encouraged and take one day at a time
Knowing that your strength will come
In moments…
In hours…
In months…
Just at the right time… (more…)


Photos from the 2011 Day of Caring

On September 22, 2011 | At 11:42 am

It was no ordinary Wednesday.

Yesterday, more than 400 Health System employees took a break from their regular jobs to participate in the annual United Way Laurence E. Richardson Day of Caring. We washed dogs, painted school blacktops, did landscaping projects, cleaned animal cages and prepared meals.

Check out our photos to see more!

No slides are available.
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Helping Hands: Junior Volunteers Give Back

On August 11, 2011 | At 7:49 am
UVA Health System Junior Volunteers Micaela Miller and Adam Ladd adjust a wheelchair outside the Emergency Department.

UVA Health System Junior Volunteers Micaela Miller and Adam Ladd adjust a wheelchair outside the Emergency Department.

Summer vacation. If you’re a teen, it’s a time to relax, forget about school and hang out with your friends, maybe get a job.

But for 56 local teens, it’s also a chance to make a difference by volunteering at UVA Health System.

The teens in our Junior Volunteer program help things run more smoothly at the Medical Center by:

  • Working in the gift shop and manning the mobile shopping cart
  • Delivering supplies and instruments to our operating rooms
  • Performing administrative tasks in the emergency room, the Outpatient Surgery Clinic and other locations
  • Assisting lost visitors and patients
  • Helping out at the Malcolm Cole Child Care Center, which provides care to children of hospital employees
  • And much more


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Remote Area Medical Clinic Wrap-up

On July 28, 2011 | At 9:55 am

In case you missed it, here’s a brief wrap-up of all the stories we published over the last week or so about the Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinic in Wise, Va. 240 volunteers from UVA traveled to the southwest portion of the state to provide free medical care at the three-day event.

Three Days, 1,300 Patients: An overview of the clinic, including the services provided and the people who attend.

Why I Go To Remote Area Medical: One UVA employee shares her personal experiences.

The People Behind RAM:

And best of all, don’t miss this great slideshow that tells the story of RAM in pictures.


The People Behind Remote Area Medical: Betty Jenkins, RN

On July 24, 2011 | At 12:19 pm

240 UVA employees, nursing and medical students are volunteering at the Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, Va., this week. We’re talking to some of them and sharing their stories. Betty Jenkins is a registered nurse in the operating room at Culpeper Regional Hospital, UVA’s partner hospital.

What have you been doing today?

I’ve worked in the dental area taking care of patients. I make sure that their blood pressures and blood sugars are in a good range before they have oral surgery, mostly extractions.

What treatments can dental patients get at RAM?

Many patients are getting cleanings and fillings or restorations. This area is extractions and oral surgery.

I think the patients have gotten really good care, even though the event is all run by volunteers. Every practitioner that’s here really wants to be here, and I think they get a lot of fulfillment out of it. They strive to give really good care.

Do you have any patient stories you can share?

I was really touched by this lady who took the time to tell me how much she appreciated this service and the volunteers. She wasn’t the only person, but she took her time to stop in the midst of things and say how much she appreciated it. It was very touching.

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The People Behind Remote Area Medical: Robbbyrda Preston and Charlotte Graham, Patient Access

On July 22, 2011 | At 10:05 pm

240 UVA employees, nursing and medical students are volunteering at the Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, Va., this week. We’re talking to some of them and sharing their stories. Robbbyrda Preston and Charlotte Graham work in patient access at UVA.

What did you do today?

Robbbyrda: At RAM, we register patients into the hospital system. By doing that, we establish an account number and a medical record number that’ll link to the patient’s clinical data. It goes into our electronic medical record system for lab results, or radiology or other tests.

What are the advantages to that?

Charlotte: We can use that medical record number here even at RAM to see what’s going on with patients. If a UVA doctor sees them, then that information is in our clinical system. So the doctor could say, “OK, today his lab work looks like this. Is that normal or abnormal for this patient?”

Robbbyrda: And right now, we’re registering a patient to try to get him seen before the clinic closes for the day.

Did things go smoothly?

Robbbyrda: We did have some problems. The internet provider went down, so for about five hours, we had to register without computers and put everything on paper. That means later we’ll have to go back and put it all in the system using a much longer process.

Charlotte: But it’s back up. We’ve got about 75 or 80 percent of the patients back into the system.  We finished off the afternoon registering into the system, and we can use it tomorrow morning and finish entering today’s patients.

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