A Second Life for Hospital Beds

By Zhang Ju-fen
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Photos by Li Ya-ping

The Tzu Chi assistive device team in Chiayi, southern Taiwan, repairs and refurbishes retired beds from Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, transforming some into fully operational beds.

Volunteers from the Chiayi assistive device team visit Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital to collect retired hospital beds for repair and reuse.

Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital in Chiayi, southern Taiwan, opened its doors 23 years ago, thanks to generous donations from around the world. However, the high-quality hospital beds purchased at that time have started showing signs of wear and tear, including rust and malfunctions. While other medical institutions might swap out such beds without a second thought, at Tzu Chi, they’re repurposed, continuing the cycle of love.

In 2023, volunteer Yang Li-fen (楊麗芬) found a collection of hospital beds stored together in the hospital and inquired if they were going to be retired and replaced. Lin Wen-feng (林文峰), head of the Safekeeping Section of the General Affairs Department at the hospital, explained that these electric beds, imported from the United States and each costing over 50,000 New Taiwan dollars (approximately US$1,650), were experiencing issues after years of use, including with their lifting mechanisms. The Engineering Department at the hospital had evaluated the beds and concluded that they no longer met modern medical standards. The beds were slated to be replaced with newer models.

Shen Kun-fu (沈坤福), head of the Engineering Department’s Maintenance Section, clarified that some beds had defective circuit boards or motors. He also noted that the original manufacturers had stopped producing the parts. Some were showing rust stains, affecting their appearance, but refurbishing them would be nearly as expensive as purchasing new ones. He added that if these beds were handed over to a recycling company, they would likely be treated as scrap metal, a fate he couldn’t help but find regrettable.

Yang Li-fen proposed that the beds be given to the Tzu Chi assistive device team in Chiayi for repair and reuse. This proposal received strong support from the General Affairs Department. The large-scale recycling project with the team was initiated on June 7, 2023.

Each bed weighed 150 kilograms, and many of the volunteers involved in the project were getting on in years, but they worked tirelessly, bending down to tie ropes securely and carefully transporting each bed to their repair site. Over the eight months since the project started, volunteers have dismantled beds too far gone to be functional, transferred usable parts onto beds in better condition, and meticulously cleaned every part of each bed. They rewired broken circuits or switches and removed rust before repainting. Some volunteers even bought parts with their own money to repair some of the faulty beds.

As of February 2024, over 60 of the 122 repaired beds had already been distributed. Despite the challenging transportation process, volunteers have delivered beds to nursing centers in Penghu, an archipelago off the southwestern coast of Taiwan, as well as to various locations in Chiayi County and City, including the mountainous Alishan Township and the coastal Budai Township. The first bed arrived at Leye Village in Alishan Township on August 24, 2023. A 72-year-old woman there, receiving home care, couldn’t afford the tens of thousands of Taiwanese dollars for an electric medical bed. When the bed provided by Tzu Chi was delivered to her home, her daughter, the woman’s principal caregiver, was deeply grateful to Tzu Chi for alleviating pressure on her family.

Volunteers for the Tzu Chi Eco-Friendly Assistive Device Program in Taiwan clean, disinfect, and refurbish used assistive devices before sending them out to people needing such equipment. Anyone can apply for these devices, which are delivered to the applicant’s home. Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital still has nearly 400 beds waiting to be recycled, so volunteers will continue their efforts to give new life to the equipment.

Tzu Chi’s assistive device program collects used assistive devices across Taiwan, then repairs and refurbishes them before distributing them to applicants. Here are some wheelchairs collected by program volunteers in Chiayi.

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