Department of Veterans Affairs Launches Medical Waste Disposal Pilot Program
he US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently launched a pilot program that seeks to ensure the proper disposal of medical waste and unused medications at hospitals and large health care facilities, reports healthcarefinancenews.com. The program is being executed within the VA Capitol Health Care Network (CHCN), which provides care for eligible veterans in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The program is made possible through a collaboration with Sharps Compliance Corp (SCC), a Houston-based company that provides medical waste disposal solutions. SCC provides such services as the Sharps Disposal By Mail System and RxTakeAway solutions. The CHCN consists of four medical centers, a rehabilitation center and fifteen outpatient clinics that serve roughly 780,000 veterans. Each veteran that participates in the program receives a survey designed to help the VA assess the program’s efficacy and ease of use. SCC’s CEO says he hopes that the program may one day be expanded throughout the Veterans Health Administration. Last year, SCC was awarded a five-year federal supply schedule contract by the US General Services Administration and a $40 million contract with the government to provide its Medical Waste Management System service.
John Hopkins University Researchers Advocate for Recycled Medical Equipment
n a recent study released in the journal Academic Medicine, researchers with the John Hopkins University School of Medicine noted that with proper sterilization, recalibration and testing, the recycling of such single-use equipment as laparoscopic ports is safe, reports sciencedaily.com. Recycling medical equipment, they add, could save hospitals millions of dollars annually and reduce the amount of trash generated by the health care industry, which is currently second only to the food industry in terms of the amount of waste produced annually. The lead author of the study says, “No one really thinks of good hospitals as massive waste producers, but they are.” Hospitals, he adds, routinely toss away surgical gowns, towels laparoscopic ports and expensive ultrasonic cutting tools after a single use when it’s simply not necessary. Some items are even thrown out without ever having been used, for example, single use devices that have been removed from their packaging. The John Hopkins study urges hospitals to procure items designed specifically to be used more than once (after sterilization, of course). Reprocessed medical devices have become an increasingly tantalizing option for cash-strapped hospitals as they cost about half as much as new equipment. Banner Health in Phoenix, Arizona, for instance, saved almost $1.5 million last year by using reprocessed compression sleeves, pulse oximeters and other devices. Despite the potential for big savings, the practice of using reprocessed devices is not yet widespread due to safety concerns such as malfunction and transmission of infections. Under US law, all reprocessed medical devices must be labeled as such and include the name of the company that did the reprocessing – a measure aimed at assuaging patients’ fears. Though the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has declared labeled devices safe for reuse, many remain wary. “The devices are safe, but it’s a public relations challenge,” says one GAO officer. “Some people don’t like the idea that they’re being treated with equipment that has been used before. But these reprocessed devices are as good as new since the testing standards for reuse are impeccable and there have been no patient safety problems in our analysis.” 18
California Landfill Linked to Birth Defects
PA officials recently sent a notice of violation to a landfill in Fresno, California operated by Chemical Waste Management (CWM) for the improper disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a chemical known to cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems, reports the Associated Press. According to the EPA, CWM has failed to follow up on a several violations that were first noted in 2005. Improper treatment and storage of hazardous waste are among the violations. The landfill is the largest in the western US. CWM has been fined several times for failing to monitor landfill seepage. Its Fresno landfill has been linked to at least eleven birth defects in the past three years. Representatives of the company claim there is no substantial evidence to prove that PCB seepage caused the defects. Until recently the EPA had taken relatively little disciplinary action against CWM. In 2007, EPA investigators determined that CWM had been using PCB testing equipment that was incorrectly calibrated. They also found that PCB leachate was improperly diluted before being illegally placed in evaporation ponds containing the solvents acetone and toluene, both of which can be detrimental to the environment and human health. Senator Barbara Boxer has accused the EPA of negligence and expressed outrage that no action was taken when the violations were first discovered. In response, the EPA has begun taking air, soil and water samples in the region around the landfill.
Illinois Pharma Round Up Program Aims to Protect Environment, Human Health
he Illinois American Water Company (IAWC), Tazewell County Health Department and the Pekin Police Department recently teamed up to create a pharmaceutical collection and safe disposal program, reports pekintimes.com. Since last November the program has collected more than 150 pounds of unwanted prescription and non-prescription medications, not including the weight of packaging or containers. The IAWC has started six similar projects throughout Peoria County and northern Illinois. IAWC spokesperson Karen Cotton says the plan is to eventually take the program statewide. “This is something we have needed for a long time,” she adds. “I think the residents of the county really find this program valuable. We have people call all the time. They have all these medicines and don’t know how to dispose of them. The program is working very well.” Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston says he’d like to take the succesful program to other municipalities. Right now, he adds, people have to drive from around the county to Pekin to drop off their old medications. Huston has contacted other police departments to help bring the program closer to residents in their jurisdictions, but many have expressed concern over liability exposure. “When a department takes custody of drugs, or any property, they have to be very careful because they are responsible for the control of those drugs and destroying them,” says Huston. “The abuse of prescription drugs is growing at an alarming rate. We want to do whatever we can to make these drugs less available to people who would abuse them or sell them.” Under the protocols of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, controlled medications like vicodin and oxycodone must be only be handled by police officers when being destroyed.
Medical Waste Management APR-JUN 2010
2nd Quarter 2010 issue of Medical Waste Management