Surplus Supplies Save Lives Worldwide — And in Our Own Backyard

Sue Davis, EdD, RN, helps make sure surplus medical supplies don’t end up in a landfill

LOUISVILLE Nearly 430,000 garbage trucks — that’s what it would take to haul medical surplus from U.S. hospitals each year, and much of it is unused or under-used medical supplies and equipment.

For two years, retired nurse and educator Sue Davis, EdD, RN, has played a pivotal role in making sure a large portion of the surplus in Kentucky and nearby states is shipped to medically impoverished communities worldwide. This year, she also has focused on serving Kentucky communities as healthcare providers have taken on the COVID-19 crisis.

Davis is the local donation coordinator for SOS, a Louisville-based nonprofit organization. Since mid-March, SOS has been deploying critically needed PPE and other supplies to Kentucky hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, home health aides, and the Louisville Metro Police Department. The value of donated items Davis and SOS have re-directed to local and regional organizations and facilities has surpassed $1 million.

“The best aspect of being a part of the SOS team is that the work is mission driven,” Davis said. “If the work is not something that will achieve health and hope for people in distress, the team is not doing the work it was designed to address.”

Drawing on Experience

Davis draws on a wide range of experience to make sure the right supplies are sent to the right places at the right time. She graduated from St. Vincent Hospital School of Nursing and earned her BSN from Mary Manse College in Toledo, Ohio. She completed her MSN at the Medical College of Georgia, and then moved to Louisville where she took a position as a clinical nurse specialist in a plastic surgery practice.

In 1985, Davis transitioned to a faculty position in the Bellarmine College Department of Nursing, later serving as department chair and working in the Office of Adult Services, where she coordinated nursing outreach programs throughout Kentucky. She also attended Vanderbilt University and earned an EdD with a focus in higher education administration.

In 1992, Davis was selected as the dean of Bellarmine’s Lansing School of Nursing. After retiring from that position, she served as an academic advisor, and, in 2018, became a frequent SOS volunteer. Davis serves on the SOS board of directors as well as the board council of the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance and the board of trustees for Norton Healthcare.

Providing Medical Supplies

Members of the Greater Louisville Medical Society founded SOS in 1993. The organization collects and sorts medical supplies donated by hospitals, supply companies, other organizations, and individuals in several states.

Instead of ending up in garbage trucks headed to landfills, many of the supplies have been loaded into 40-foot sea-going cargo containers and shipped worldwide. SOS has saved more than three million pounds of medical supplies and delivered them to medically impoverished communities in 105 countries. In addition, last year alone SOS equipped 107 medical mission teams.

Davis also has focused on providing “essential teaching supplies and equipment to schools of nursing and allied health in an effort to defray the financial burden of higher education on students and institutions,” she said. “Healthcare providers are needed more now than ever, so helping support a career pathway for someone is certainly a fulfillment of SOS’ mission.”

Responding to the Crisis

When the pandemic reached Kentucky, Davis took on a range of new tasks at SOS—from vetting and prioritizing donation requests to processing pallets of PPE and packing supplies for distribution.

“The greatest challenge during the pandemic is meeting the demand for personal protection supplies for the healthcare and childcare facilities across the state,” Davis said. “Many facilities and agencies were not aware of SOS, its purpose, or its mission to provide local and regional support in a time of crisis. SOS proved itself most agile at creating networks and establishing communication lines so that products could meet a widespread need, including protecting first responders in Kentucky and Southern Indiana and our healthcare workers — as well as hospitals and long-term care facilities.”

Davis said some of the most salient moments from the organization’s pandemic response have included providing masks and hand sanitizer to highly grateful first responders. She also vividly remembers a “panicked call from a nursing and rehabilitation facility with a significant outbreak of COVID-19 that had exhausted their PPE supply,” and “last but certainly not least, there was the help SOS provided to keep children safe from the coronavirus in an orphanage.”

Contact SOS at (502) 736-6360 or soshealthandhope.org.