Hospital given 5 days to properly store waste
Published: October 21, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The Department of Planning and Natural Resources issued a notice of compliance status on Friday to Schneider Hospital regarding the improper storage of medical waste.
The department appears to have taken an ambivalent stance toward the hospital, which was found in violation of its permit on an unnanounced inspection Sept. 27.
While citing evidence that basic health and safety related to waste disposal procedures are being skirted and ignored, the regulatory agency has chosen not escalate its enforcement actions by issuing a notice of violation.
DPNR issued the hospital a notice of non-compliance Oct. 1, concluding that the facility had violated its permit to store and generate medical waste by having 150 boxes of red bag waste and sharps on an outdoor loading dock; by not having signs warning people of the potential hazard; by keeping waste for more than 30 days; and by keeping it in temperatures far above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since then, DPNR has discovered that the hospital's indoor storage freezer - which hospital officials said had reached capacity in early September and forced them to stack battered, jumbled boxes on the loading dock - apparently has not been maintained at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit on a continual basis.
Red bag wastes and sharps are two forms of medical waste that contain contaminated feces and urine; discarded body tissues and blood; equipment, such as used needles and vials; and lab specimens used in the diagnosis of infectious diseases.
Freezing waste controls for the multiplication of infectious bacteria and viruses it may contain.
Although hospital staff continue to put red bags into open cardboard boxes outside on the loading dock behind the hospital, DPNR officials are making a distinction between "packing" and "storing" and are not issuing a permit violation at this time, according to Leslie Leonard, Environmental Program manager at DPNR.
Also, the hospital has neglected to date boxes of medical waste, leaving inspectors with no immediate way to check the age of the contents, Leonard said.
In spite of these findings, which is the result of an Oct. 15 follow-up inspection, Leonard and DPNR's legal counsel, Magdalene Morancie, said the department is using the discretion afforded to it in the V.I. Code not to sanction the hospital.
Instead, the hospital has five days to prove that it actually has shipped six trailers of waste away and to "review the manufacturer's specifications" for the indoor freezer, "determine the temperature inside of the storage unit, and submit proof to DPNR that waste is being stored at 32 degrees Fahrenheit," according to Friday's notice.
"I think they have made great strides in their progress to come into compliance," Leonard said.
No evidence of shipments
The notice states that DPNR "cannot conclude" that Schneider Hospital has made arrangements for the disposal of the excess waste outdoors. Though the hospital said in written and verbal responses to DPNR that it had shipped six 20-foot trailers of waste since Sept. 27, DPNR "only has evidence that three containers have been packed with waste," the notice states.
The notice also gives the temperature of the indoor freezer as 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which Leonard said she did not consider an accurate overall measure because the door was open and people were going in and out, which could have raised the temperature temporarily.
"There was a chill, but it wasn't an icy chill," Leonard said.
Leonard said a gauge on the door is the only mechanism for checking, as there is no internal thermometer.
However, during a site visit Oct. 11, Leonard said, after she found loose red bags sitting in inches of water, hospital staff informed her that the freezer's temperature would be evident from a control room panel, so she decided to wait to measure the temperature until a final inspection.
However, when she arrived for a final inspection Tuesday, hospital staff told her that the freezer "was not connected" to the control room panel, as "condensate" from the A/C unit continued to drip into a bucket inside the freezer.
"When I went back to check, they said it wasn't connected," Leonard said.
The hospital had boxed all of the waste in the freezer, and there were 150 to 165 boxes inside, according to the notice.
- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.