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Difference Makers

SOS Provides Health and Hope to the Sick and Hopeless

Writer / Andrew Toy
Photography Provided

SOSMany decades ago, Louisville’s medical system was the cause of a big problem, and that problem was waste.

“Perfectly good bandages, cloth operating gowns, towels and sutures were being thrown out,” says Dr. Norton Waterman.

Waterman is the man who, in 1993, along with members of the Greater Louisville Medical Society (GLMS), developed a response to the waste problem, and the response was SOS.

“Good instruments were discarded because of recent improvements, regulations or changes in popularity,” he says.

Since then, because of the efforts of Waterman and the good people of GLMS, SOS has kept more than a million pounds of medical supplies and equipment from being needlessly discarded in our landfills. These items, instead, have delivered health and hope to communities in the United States as well as 105 other countries that lack medical provisions.

It wasn’t until 2010 that SOS became an independent nonprofit organization, a huge leap from operating as a program of the Greater Louisville Medical Society Foundation. Since that landmark occasion, SOS’s presence has grown from Kentucky into neighboring states. Long-term partnerships are being forged in impoverished countries such as Ghana, Ecuador, Kenya and the Philippines.

“SOS directly benefits underserved peoples living in medically impoverished communities at home and abroad, by delivering necessary medical supplies and equipment to health clinics, hospitals and other institutions,” the SOS website states. “95% of the donated materials SOS receives are donated, repurposed or recycled.”

The supplies that come from SOS match surplus with need. It’s estimated that hospitals in the United States generate nearly six million tons of medical surplus each year, and a large portion of the surplus is made up of unused, or even underused, medical supplies and equipment. Because of SOS, medical supplies that would otherwise be polluting our landfills have been given to communities within these countries, and have provided much health and hope to their inhabitants.

It can’t be made any clearer that SOS’s goal is about everyone working together to create a healthier and hope-filled world. A board of directors serves as the SOS governing body, and the members selflessly serve without payment, so strong is their desire to see goodness grow throughout our planet. While SOS ships perfectly good medical equipment across four different continents, 75% of their work is in Africa.

So how does SOS survive as a nonprofit? Like many nonprofits, they rely on good-hearted people – people who donate, people who volunteer and, of course, friends. SOS’s very small staff of nine is too focused and results-driven to deal with the red tape that can come with governmental assistance. SOS also strongly relies on the support of numerous companies affiliated with medical supplies on many levels. These partners share SOS’s passion for a clean and healthy environment, and are a big reason why SOS continues to work and stay active.

One of the nine people employed by SOS is Cody Moran, the global health program manager. In 2014 Moran graduated from Western Kentucky University at the age of 27, and immediately started working at Baptist Health as a financial counselor; his path was always in line with the medical health care field. What piqued his interest in SOS most was the environmental impact, having been raised by farmers in central Kentucky. Naturally, soil and water quality has always been important to him.

“The environmental impact that SOS creates is pretty significant, locally,” Moran states. “We keep half a million pounds of medical supplies out of the landfill. Hard plastics and soft plastics would just be sitting there impacting our creeks, river and waterways.”

It should be pointed out that donating unused medical supplies to help improve the health of people around the world has another side of the coin – by saving that unused or under-used equipment, it is helping to improve the environment in a tremendous way. In 2018 the World Health Organization estimated that 12.6 million deaths occur each year that are attributed to unhealthy environments.

SOSThe other aspect that attracted Moran to the small company was the humanitarian aid that SOS provides. There is no better position for him to be in at the company than global health program manager, where he is in charge of managing the logistics of all the supplies and equipment, like getting cargo ready to be delivered to the right places around the world. Sometimes the boxes scale all the way up to 40’, depending on the supplies, equipment and beds being shipped.

What’s even more crucial than that is the delicate task of handling the partnerships SOS has, from private family foundations all the way up to state and federal governments within the countries they work with.

One example of SOS’s impact can be found in a little clinic in Western Uganda. SOS’s president and CEO, Denise Sears, visited the two-room building in 2017 and determined that they needed help. In January, SOS sent a 40’ container to them, which held hospital beds, delivery beds, incubators, and anything else they would need to start up a neonatal ward. With the aid of SOS’s supplies, the Uganda doctors in that clinic delivered their first baby on Saturday, October 24, 2020.

What about the worldwide pandemic that has affected the world in a not-so-positive way? How has a small company that operates with countries around the world fought against the currents of nationwide shutdowns and worldwide panic? How much impact could a little warehouse, tucked in the back corner of Butchertown in Louisville, Kentucky, possibly make?

It was January of last year when the calls started flooding in from Hong Kong and Shanghai – Chinese doctors pressing SOS for help due to the outbreak that occurred the previous month. SOS sent over shipments, but then February and March hit hard and it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to be a big problem here in Louisville and throughout our own country.

The nine employees at SOS took the problem by the horns and were able to have a dramatic impact on the community. They were braced and ready to go. Even on regular days the staff, from top to bottom, could be found in the warehouse doing the essential work without hesitation or complaint. They knew this was the time to do what they could, and really flex the muscles of their mission and what they believed.

In short, the pandemic was their time to shine and really step up, and all efforts became focused on delivering personal protective items to nursing homes like Treyton Oak Towers and Nazareth Home here in Louisville, as well as other facilities whose leaders found their residents in dire straits. From there, their efforts expanded to southern Indiana, Lexington, Owensboro, and even to Nashville. In all, SOS delivered more than one million dollars of supplies to all of those nearby communities.

Throughout the high-spike seasons, all of the effort and work they did every day around the warehouse doubled, and it was intense. The community became SOS’s main mission. The thank yous and gratitude they received were beyond value. SOS, because of their good works, received dozens of reports back from all of the facilities that they were able to donate to, about how they couldn’t have operated without the donations SOS had provided for them.

SOS was recently nominated for the Louisville Business First Impact Award. It is because of people and companies like SOS that there is still health and hope, not only in our immediate communities, but in the world. Theirs is an impact worth celebrating.

For more information, visit soshealthandhope.org.

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