We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Josh Deutsch, Development Coordinator with the HERO Program in Fargo, ND. HERO’s mission is to provide access to affordable healthcare equipment and supplies for all, through the collection and distribution of donated materials.
In 1996, HERO, Healthcare Equipment Recycling Organization, began in Fargo as a mandate by the local chapter of the Association of Operating Room Nurses to address the large amount of wasted health care materials from local hospitals. The providers, who were once forced to discard opened packages because of the cost and liability of reprocessing, found the alternative of recycling very attractive. Through HERO, they could reduce costly medical waste expenses and help others at the same time.
The passion and pride Deutsch has for the program is evident. He landed at HERO at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic after serving as the Activity Director at a long-term care organization for seventeen years. At HERO, he is putting his passion and talents to use.
“HERO is an important resource particularly for seniors, disabled children and adults, individuals who are financially struggling and people who are looking for a good deal for medical supplies. We never shut down our storefront during COVID. We considered ourselves essential and part of the frontline of care workers. We kept our doors open and continued to meet the needs of our community during that time.”
The generosity of local foundations and community leaders helped HERO to expand its warehouse space and open its storefront in 2000. The store is open Mondays – Fridays (8 am – 4:30 pm) Donated supplies and equipment are collected from local healthcare facilities, agencies and individuals and made available at the store for anyone in need; whether suffering from a chronic illness or preparing for an upcoming knee surgery. There are medical items for everyone.
HERO also has been effective in serving the community by protecting the environment through significant reduction of the amount of perfectly usable medical supplies and DME from disposal into local landfills and incinerators. When people are done using the equipment, they often re-donate it.
The HERO program has a strong individual donor base and a committed crew of volunteers. Deutch indicated the HERO store and program remains in Fargo, but could be replicated in other communities. Program coordinators have identified a few ways to partner with other organizations and similar programs to meet supply and demand needs throughout the Dakotas and beyond. The major healthcare systems, Sanford and Essentia Health, have identified items they can donate and have set up a distribution channel to collect and deliver items to the HERO storefront each week.
He added, “Most hear about our program from referrals from local hospitals, home health agencies or home health equipment organizations. Anybody can shop here. No matter race, income level, anybody can shop here. We are the place to go. ”The program does not accept insurance. The HERO Cares Program is available for those who cannot afford the equipment or supplies. Those that are at 200% of the federal poverty line can purchase equipment or supplies for about 5% of the actual cost. A doctor’s note demonstrating need is required along with some parameters to prevent misuse of the program. Deutsch estimates 100 persons utilize the CARES benefit each month which includes an estimated $9,000 of supplies.
Recently, a local nurse was shopping in the HERO store and asked for a tour. She came across a Quantum wheelchair and snapped a photo of it. The next day, the nurse called inquiring about the wheelchair. She explained she had a 21-year old patient who was paralyzed, severely depressed and spent the better part of the past year in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt. This wheelchair could benefit him greatly. The HERO team took the wheelchair measurements and then drove it over to the location of the patient. It was a perfect fit. The young man qualified for the CAREs program, but the HERO team donated the wheelchair to him as a gift. A few days later, an envelope arrived with money collected by the nurse and her team to thank the HERO staff for their efforts to meet a need and improve the quality of life for this young man; a life-changing gesture.
According to their Website, since 2003, HERO has saved 1.7 million pounds from the landfills, waived the fees of medical items to the cost of $750,000, and assisted 755 global missions. They have had 7,724 volunteers, from 500 groups, that have served 59,906 volunteer hours. Volunteer hours have a value of $1,632,000! HERO has also served 50,000 individuals and numerous agencies.
HERO’s common-sense approach to making resources available through recycling is changing lives by helping customers to remain safe and independent in their homes during periods of medical recovery and natural aging. Visit their Web site to learn more and get involved.