Waste still being stored outdoors behind Schneider
Published: October 5, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - Three days after being issued a notice of non-compliance for the dangerous accumulation of 150 boxes of biohazardous "red bag" waste outside Schneider Hospital, hospital staff on Friday still were packing the waste in open boxes on a loading dock.
Sen. Clarence Payne III, chairman of the Senate Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee, reported that Schneider executives are struggling to rectify the off-kilter schedule of shipping trailers that haul the waste to the port, where it is shipped to Miami for sterile disposal.
According to Payne, the hospital has no choice but to continue to violate conditions in its DPNR-issued permit for the storage and generation of medical waste because of "a lack of space." Payne also said that an additional refrigerated storage unit is on its way.
The DPNR-issued permit states that the waste cannot be stored on-site for more than 30 days, that it must be kept in a secure and properly designated area and that it must be stored at below 32 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the multiplication of infectious agents.
"There are some boxes there that currently have waste in it, but it's only being used as a staging and packing area until the trailers come on Monday," Payne said about the unmarked loading dock. "After that, back there where they currently have boxes stacked should be vacated of any potential trash."
Schneider Chief Executive Officer Dr. Bernard Wheatley has not returned phone calls to The Daily News seeking comment on the situation since Friday, when officials from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Environment Protection Division conducted an unannounced inspection of the facility and gave the hospital 10 days to respond to an order for corrective action.
The DPNR order states that the hospital should:
- Arrange for the immediate and proper disposal of all hazardous waste in the storage freezer that has been stored for more than 30 days.
- Immediately arrange for the proper disposal of all boxes of hazardous waste outside the storage freezer, and place all hazardous waste in refrigerated storage at or below the temperature of 0 degrees centigrade (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Immediately cease and desist from storing boxes of hazardous waste outside of the storage freezer.
Wheatley, Vice President of Facilities Management Karen Hodge and Director of Engineering Julian Magras said that the arrival of two trailers Sept. 30 or Oct. 1 would rectify the situation.
However, numbers supplied by Hodge and by DPNR officials about the volume of waste the hospital is collecting and producing, the length of time trailers remain in transit and the size of the fleet of trailers leave room for doubt about whether the problem will recur.
Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett also has remained silent on the potential public health risks associated with the exposure of the red bags - used to hold blood, tissue, fecal and urine specimens and discarded used medical equipment, such as needles and catheters - to temperatures outside of that set by Schneider's permit to store and generate medical waste.
Plaskett has not returned a number of phone message to The Daily News.
According to Marcia Richard O'Neale, general manager of V.I. Regulated Waste Management, the vendor that takes the waste away from the hospital, two trailers had been loaded this week, and another three are scheduled for pick-up next week.
Hodge has said that the hospital had purchased another two trailers from V.I. Waste Management, which would bring the fleet up to six trailers. The idea is to enlarge the number of trailers available for pick up at any given time to short-circuit the accumulation of overflow when the storage freezer gets full.
However, Hodge said at a Schneider governing board meeting Sept. 25 that all four trailers in current circulation had ended up off-island at the same time.
Each trailer, when it leaves, can take six to eight weeks to complete the drop-off and return cycle from Schneider to Miami, according to Wheatley. By Aug. 23, all trailers had entered the cycle, leaving the waste to pile up for another four weeks on-site.
Leslie Leonard, Solid Waste Program manager at DPNR's Environment Protection Division, said that based on her site visit and discussions with Hodge, the problem may be compounded by an escalating production of waste at the hospital that she cannot yet verify or quantify because the hospital has also failed to properly track, through daily logs, what waste is coming from where and how fast it is arriving. In addition, Leonard said, the hospital collects waste from doctor's offices and private medical facilities on St. Thomas.
Leonard and David Simon, director of the Environment Protection Division at DPNR, said they are closely monitoring the situation, especially given the potential impact of the federal government shut-down affecting the shipping industry.
Leonard said the hospital's hemodialysis unit alone produces 600 red bags per month. It takes four trailers to empty the hospital's freezer, she said, and this process, which is supposed to occur on a monthly basis has instead, by hospital accounts, been occurring only four times a year.
Calls to Crowley Shipping Company, whom O'Neale said had taken custody of the two trailers which were packed this week, were not returned as of press time.
O'Neale said that the U.S. Customs Department had not issued any statements that the furlough of federal employees would affect Customs employees who process shipping forms and that she did not foresee it being an impediment to getting the waste off-island and recirculating the trailers back to Schneider.
For now, Payne said, he "feels content" that the hospital has enacted a plan of action that will prevent the lapses in medical waste standards from recurring, after assurances that a refrigerated truck for ancillary storage outside the freezer would be coming in "two to three weeks."
Payne also characterized the waste situation as one of a bundle of issues that Wheatley had inherited and that may have been longstanding.
Earlier this week, Payne responded to constituent concerns about the air conditioning systems being partially inoperable since May due to contractual issues with a vendor whom the hospital needs to replace five compressors.
"I think that he is going to have to have to evaluate each and every department or unit and, based on his findings, make the adjustments that he deems necessary," Payne said, referring to Wheatley, who took over as CEO of the hospital in April. "There might have been some practices that were overlooked that are now not being overlooked."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.