MUSC fined $120,000 for violating medical waste laws

Discard used hypodermic needles.

Discard used hypodermic needles.

PA

The Medical University of South Carolina and an associated institution have been fined nearly $120,000 for dozens of infectious waste violations, including failing to protect the public from potential exposure to carrier medical waste of germs, as part of a state survey of Charleston-area hospitals.

State enforcement documents released this week show that MUSC and Ashley River Tower failed to properly secure needles and other infectious waste, and that medical waste ended up in unapproved disposal sites.

MUSC and Ashley River allowed infectious waste to be shipped to Charleston-area landfills without treating the waste to kill germs, as required by state law, according to enforcement records. Three landfills reported finding infectious waste from MUSC and Ashley River in the fall of 2021, according to enforcement orders.

The waste included MUSC body tissue in a landfill. Bloody tubes and used needles were also found in some of the landfills and litter was discovered spilling on the ground, according to enforcement records.

MUSC and Ashley River were each fined $58,000 – two years after regulators cited the medical centers for some of the same violations.

A former DHEC waste regulator said failing to treat infectious waste before sending it to landfill is serious business.

“If it is infectious, it must be treated to avoid exposing people to any contamination or infection,” said Art Braswell, landfill consultant and former director of solid waste at DHEC.

The Medical School The hospital system, which treats patients from across South Carolina, is one of the most prestigious health care systems in the state. The university, founded in 1824, is the oldest medical school in the South, according to its website.

MUSC’s main campus is in downtown Charleston, but the university hospital system has expanded in recent years to other parts of South Carolina. Ashley River Tower is a Charleston-area digestive health, cancer, and cardiology facility that is part of the MUSC system.

MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said the university medical system is working to improve its waste disposal practices.

The system has reinforced training, performed root cause analysis and uses daily waste audits in an effort to improve, she said. The university system, which continues to meet with DHEC on this subject, has also launched an education campaign on waste disposal for employees and organizes regular meetings “to reinforce the importance and the steps related to the elimination appropriate waste,” she said in an email. Wednesday.

DHEC officials did not respond Tuesday or Wednesday morning to questions from the state about the investigation.

Other hospitals mentioned

Two other health care facilities, Trident Medical Center and Naval Health Clinic Charleston, were also fined for failing to follow infectious waste rules, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control. . DHEC fined Trident Medical $55,300 and Naval Health fined $14,400.

In Trident’s case, the violations centered on the discovery of infectious waste at both a landfill and a garbage transfer station, neither of which should have ended up with the material.

An enforcement order says Trident sent infectious waste to a transfer station in North Charleston from October to December 2021. DHEC ordered Trident to remove the waste from the transfer station. Medical waste found at the transfer station included bloody syringes and tubes, as well as a bag of urine, a DHEC execution order said.

Trident spokesman Rod Whiting said the medical facility was committed to following the rules and “we quickly took action to respond” to the DHEC findings. The company, like MUSC and the Naval Clinic, paid the fines.

“Our efforts have been focused on training and educating colleagues,” Whiting said in a text message. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep our staff, our patients and our community safe.”

Trident Medical is part of the HCA Heathcare system, a leading national healthcare company with 182 hospitals.

A Naval Health spokesperson was unavailable.

Wider investigation

The fines, first made public this week in a report to the DHEC board, are apparently the latest the developments of an investigation how hospitals treat and dispose of medical waste.

Earlier this year, the agency hit three other Charleston-area hospitals and one in Conway with more than $143,000 in fines for medical waste violations. These enforcement measures were made public in May.

With the most recent fines totaling $185,000, DHEC has now levied at least $328,000 in fines against major coastal medical facilities this year for infectious waste violations.

Agency officials said solid waste landfills have expressed concern about the improper disposal of infectious medical waste. These landfills typically take household trash and are not designed to accept untreated, disease-carrying medical waste.

By law, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health care facilities are supposed to treat infectious waste to kill germs, before shipping it to landfills for disposal. Treatment includes incineration of the material, steam sterilization of the waste, or chemical disinfection, according to DHEC.

infectious waste includes bloody bandages, body parts and liquids and used needles. This waste can be dangerous if not properly disposed of as it can carry germs from sick patients.

South Carolina has approximately 9,000 entities that generate infectious waste and 30 registered carriers of the material. The state has two facilities, including one in West Columbia, that handle medical waste. For hospitals that do not treat their waste themselves, the treatment centers will do it for them.

The latest infectious waste violation fines are not the first for MUSC and Ashley River.

In 2020 they were a fine of $14,800 each for some of the same violations cited in the most recent law enforcement actions, according to DHEC records.

These include failing to manage waste to protect the public from exposure and failing to treat infectious waste prior to disposal, records show. MUSC and Ashley River were each fined after state inspectors found eight violations for each medical facility.

Sammy Fretwell has covered the environmental beat for The State since 1995. He writes on a range of issues, including wildlife, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and the coastal development. He has won numerous awards, including Journalist of the Year by the SC Press Association in 2017. Fretwell graduated from the University of South Carolina and grew up in Anderson County. Contact him at 803 771 8537.
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