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Lourdes OR Team Repurposes Surgical Wraps to Help the Homeless

Lourdes “Green Team” includes (left to right): Ian Menewisch, RNFA; Juliann Panza, surgical technician; Jen Lindenhofen, RN; Dana Scarangelli, surgical technician; John Whitley, RT; Laura Faust, CRNA; and Jeanine Lippincott, RN.

“We hope to make the day a little better for a person who is homeless while putting to good use what would otherwise go to waste”

Before any surgery takes place in the operating rooms of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, a technician unwraps a set of sterilized instruments from what looks like a blue, giant-sized rolled-up napkin.

The “napkin” is actually a sheet of plastic material that cannot be recycled. During some surgeries, many sheets end up in the trash bin.

But while the sheets can’t be recycled, they can be repurposed, found Lourdes surgical technician Dana Scarangelli and nurse anesthetist Laura Faust, CRNA.

Since May 2018, the duo, along with Ian Menewisch, RN, BSN, RNFA, and the “Lourdes Green Team,” have been taking as many 48-inch by 48-inch blue material sheets as possible and sewing them together into what look like a 24-inch by 48-inch yoga mats to give to the homeless. Some sheets have even been sewn into sleeping bags and tote bags.

“We wanted to make the OR as eco-friendly as we could,” said Scarangelli. “We did some research online about how we could use the sheets in another way and came across a nurse in California who created mats out of the sheets for the homeless. We reached out to her about how we could adopt the idea for Lourdes, too. After connecting with her, we gathered volunteers and have created more than 150 mats to date.”

There are more than 550,000 homeless people nationwide, including an estimated 8,500 in New Jersey. Cardboard and newspapers are often used as makeshift beds and blankets.

“Each mat takes about 30 minutes to create. They’re waterproof, durable and retain heat, so they work well as a support to rest on,” explained Faust. “They can also be cleaned and are safe to put in the washer and dryer. After giving the mats to a number of homeless people, it’s evident how much they appreciate them and how worthwhile it is. It’s been very rewarding to be able to help the homeless in some way.”

Faust, Scarangelli and the Green Team sew the mats with an elastic tie attached, allowing it to be rolled up and carried on the shoulder, like a yoga mat. Said Faust, “Being light-weight and easy-to-clean, it goes a long way as a functioning cushion to lie on, as well as a gift.”

“I’m so proud of our team for wanting to help our patients and the greater community,” said Anthony Diorio, FNP, MSN, BSN, BA, Operating Room Manager at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. “It’s part of our mission to serve those in need, and our Green Team is doing just that. This truly is a fantastic initiative. I am extremely grateful to have such a selfless and dedicated team here at Lourdes.”

Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro saves its surgery mats for their Camden colleagues. By repurposing the blue mats, hundreds of pounds of waste is saved each month, according to Lourdes’ Environmental Services department.

Currently, the Green Team is creating mats, sleeping bags and totes in bulk. They plan to distribute them mostly during the summer months and winter holidays. They hope to start creating rain ponchos next.

Over the past year, Faust delivered 50 mats each to the Pennsauken and Cherry Hill police departments for officers to distribute to the homeless population. Faust and Scarangelli also keep extras in their cars at all times should either pass a person in need.

“The Pennsauken Police Department could not thank Laura Faust enough for her generous donation,” said Pennsauken Police Chief John Nettleton. “Homeless individuals usually only have negative encounters with law enforcement. The mats give patrol officers an opportunity to approach our homeless population and have a positive experience and hopefully build a level of trust.”

Scarangelli and her husband took a shipment of 20 mats to St. Francis Inn Ministries. in Philadelphia’s Kensington’s section.

“The look on each person’s face when I gave them the yoga mat, it just left me saying, ‘Wow, what a good feeling!’ Each person was so grateful. It was amazing. We look forward to giving out as many as we can.”

Faust and Scarangelli hope programs like theirs will become regular practice at hospitals throughout the region. Said Scarangelli, “If we can make the day a little better for a person who is homeless while putting to good use would otherwise go to waste, it makes it all worth it.”

Lourdes Green Team is looking for volunteers with sewing machines to assist with its Blue Mat project. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Laura Faust at laurafaust@verizon.net.

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