Cleveland, OH,
15:01 PM

Liberia calling: MetroHealth nurse spends downtime scouring auctions for used medical equipment

Kristin Hess, RN, spent nearly nine years in the sky as a flight nurse.

She can still recall the raw emotion that came with the job. “I remember coming home to my husband some days where I was just a wreck,” she says.

When the Republican National Convention came to Cleveland, Kristin was there. She helped run the medical tents that MetroHealth staffed to care for the delegates and media if needed. Event medicine is a passion of Kristin’s.

Kristin is entering her 16th year at MetroHealth, where she now serves as an Emergency Department nurse at the Brecksville Health and Surgery Center. It was there that a chance encounter with a patient sparked a new passion. In fact, it turned her into a bit of a hoarder, but in a good way.

When she discovered her patient was helping a friend liquidate his business of used medical equipment, she asked if they had any microscopes for sale. Kristen knew of a hospital in Liberia in need of a microscope to help detect malaria. She had been helping her pastor, a social worker from Liberia, collect medical supplies for the last few years.

Though the patient didn’t have a microscope, he had a whole lot more in a large warehouse in Cleveland and invited Kristin and her husband to come see for themselves.

Kristin took him up on the offer.

The warehouse, she says, looked like something out of "Sanford and Son." 

“My husband looked at me and just said, ‘Kris, your head is spinning.’ You walk around and see a bladder scanner and take a few more steps and see an exam table.”

Kristin has been collecting used medical equipment ever since.

“My garage is full to the brim. The porch looks like an ICU with ER cots, wheelchairs and exam tables.”

Her collecting has become a family affair. Her father has offered space in a shed to store her vast collection and her six-year-old and 17-year-old children are often along for the scavenger hunts.

The medical equipment left on a barge to Liberia in November. It will take three months to get there. When it arrives, Kristin, her husband and her 17- and 19-year-old-sons will be there to greet it.

Two hospitals, three clinics and countless patients will reap the benefits.

Kristin says her years in event medicine helped prepare her for the work of procuring medical equipment for an impoverished community. “I know what it’s like working in a tent with limited resources,” she says. “You learn to do the best you can with what you’ve got. Things have to run on batteries and they have to be portable.”

In addition to her new friend at the medical liquidator’s warehouse, Kristin has found other resources for used medical equipment. “I’m paying pennies on the dollar for medical equipment at auctions,” she says. “I scan the auction sites and go.”

Though her focus has been on medical supplies, Kristin expanded her wish list for the tiny village in Africa. “Children there have no desks or chairs. Some walk up to 14 miles to go to school. They have no supplies and most of the teachers don’t get paid,” she says.

When Kristin learned about school desks and chairs at an upcoming auction in southern Ohio, she and her husband rented two trucks and headed down I-77. The four-hour drive was well worth it. The trip netted 200 desks and 75 chairs. “Costs for all of the chairs was just $55.”

“I have a strong faith,” says Kristin. “I have had challenges that should have stopped this in its tracks and within minutes, I had a solution. I prayed.”

Kristin looks to her family and coworkers as partners in this journey. “The spirit of nursing is so strong." 

Kristin’s colleagues and fellow parishioners, Colleen Coyne-Hall and Beth Lopez helped load the semi-truck and provided invaluable input. “I’m surrounded by people who are so dedicated and so good at what they do. We are so blessed in this country, especially in Cleveland, to have all this health care.”

Before the Hess family heads to Liberia in March, there is more fundraising to do. The bill to ship the equipment was $6,900. Truck rental to move supplies to the remote hospitals, clinics and school is $5,000 and travel costs for the family will be in excess of $6,000. Vaccinations alone are $400 per person.

Anonymous donors have come forward with generous donations. (To learn more about this project, visit Liberia Mission Outreach International on Facebook.)

Kristin already feels a strong connection to the community that will be impacted by her work. “I haven’t been there yet, but I feel it, just seeing the pictures,” she says. “I’m sure I’m going to come home a changed person.”

About the MetroHealth System

The MetroHealth System, Cuyahoga County’s public health system, is honoring its commitment to create a healthier community by building a new hospital on its main campus in Cleveland. The building, and the 25 acres of green space around it, are catalyzing the revitalization of MetroHealth’s West Side neighborhood.

MetroHealth will break ground on the new hospital in late 2018, using nearly $1 billion it borrowed on its own credit after dramatically improving its finances. In the past five years, MetroHealth’s operating revenue has increased by 44.5 percent and its number of employees by 21 percent. Today, its staff of 7,700 provides care at MetroHealth’s four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. In the past year, MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visits in its hospitals and health centers, 75 percent of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The health system is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and the only adult and pediatric burn center in the state of Ohio.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to teaching and research. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and its main campus hospital houses a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school of science and health.

For more information, visit