For about a year, an inner city health clinic had a grant to work with trauma victims. The grant paid for medical and mental health clinicians to meet with community members who had experienced trauma firsthand or had witnessed a traumatic event. As part of the program, funds were used to purchase subway passes for the victims to travel to and from the clinic if they could not afford to do so on their own.
The program ended about a year ago after the funding ended. Many of the medical and mental health staff remain at the clinic tending to other clients.
When a clinician was cleaning out a file cabinet drawer recently, she came across an envelope with about a half-dozen pre-paid subway passes that had been used as part of the program. The passes were still useable on the subway, but the trauma clients for whom they were intended were no longer being seen in the program.
There are still clients for the regular medical and mental health services who would benefit from the cards as a way to offset the cost of getting to and from their appointments. But the clinician is not certain what to do with the cards or how appropriate it would be to simply offer them to clients in need. Some clinicians who use public transportation to get to and from work might also find the subway passes useful.
"Would it be wrong to simply let my colleagues know they are available and let them decide how to use them?" she asks.
The passes were never intended for the clinicians at the clinic, so it would be wrong to simply start using them for personal travel. Now that the trauma program has ended, the purpose for which the subway passes were originally intended has also ended. Nevertheless, many of the clients of that trauma program still visit the clinic and some could still use the financial assistance provided by a free pass.
"The passes are not reimbursable," writes the clinician. "It seems a waste to let them just sit in a drawer."
Indeed it does, but using resources for something other than what they were specifically intended for without the original funder knowing seems wrong. It might not add up to a great deal of money and no one would be re-selling or using the passes for personal gain, but the intention of the grant was clearly laid out.
The right thing indeed would be to find a way to put the prepaid subway passes to good use. Since the funder of the original grant still exists, perhaps the best first plan of action would be to contact that funder and ask for it to consider reallocating any remaining funds left on the subway passes to clients of the clinic who are in need. Or they could be more specific and indicate that the passes would only be used for clients deemed to be trauma survivors. If the funder signs off on this, the clinician and her colleagues can move ahead without hesitation to put the passes to good use.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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While the answer may be the most moral, ethical one it is over thought. Give the passes to the clients who were part of the trauma program.
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