Two Inland hospitals face probe in dumping of waste
COACHELLA VALLEY: The Tenet facilities are suspected of illegally disposing material.
By DOUGLAS E. BEEMAN
Riverside County officials say they are investigating whether Tenet Healthcare's two Coachella Valley hospitals dumped potentially infectious medical waste at a county waste transfer station and behind an abandoned Cabazon restaurant.
The dumping, if it occurred, would be the latest in a string of medical waste violations at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio and Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. Riverside County officials say they are investigating whether the two hospitals routinely ignore state laws governing disposal of medical wastes.
"There seems to be a little bit of a pattern here," said Vince Sternjacob, who heads the Environmental Health Department's environmental crimes unit.
Sternjacob's department has submitted cases against the two hospitals to the District Attorney's office. Deputy District Attorney Paul Dickerson, who is handling the cases, declined to comment. Neither hospital has been charged.
Lee Fallon, a spokeswoman for John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, confirmed the hospital is under investigation but downplayed the matter, saying: "We have not been fined yet."
She said the hospital is taking steps to comply with state medical waste regulations, including caging its medical waste collection area and hiring a firm to sterilize such wastes instead of having staff do it.
"We found out through trial and error that what we were doing wasn't good enough," she said.
At Desert Regional, Associate Administrator Kathi Sankey-Robinson said she was unaware of any dumping at Cabazon, but said the hospital was working to correct other medical waste problems.
A restaurant dump
Tenet, the nation's second-largest hospital chain, already is facing a federal probe examining whether its aggressive pricing practices improperly triggered supplementary Medicare payments for care. Desert Regional is among Tenet's most profitable California hospitals and is the most profitable in Riverside County, according to state hospital data.
Recognizable body parts, tissues and surgical materials so drenched that blood could be wrung from them must be sterilized before disposal in a landfill. Medical waste typically is disposed of in red plastic bags, making it easy to spot.
Most waste is sterilized with steam, causing the red bags to shrink and fade, said Jack McGurk, who heads the state Department of Health Services' medical-waste program. That makes sterilized bags easier to identify, he said.
McGurk, whose office regulates medical waste from more than 700 hospitals in two cities and 25 counties (including Los Angeles), said he sees perhaps two to five improper disposal cases a year. The rest of the state's counties, including Riverside and San Bernardino, regulate medical waste themselves.
Riverside County sheriff's deputies found bags of unsterilized medical waste from Desert Regional Medical Center dumped behind an abandoned restaurant in the Cabazon area east of Banning, county officials said. The bags, discovered Nov. 1, contained needles, vials of unused and partially used pharmaceuticals and test tubes containing blood and marked with patient names, Sternjacob said.
Untreated medical waste from JFK Memorial Hospital was found Dec. 27 at a Coachella Valley waste-transfer station, he said. The waste included blood, human tissue and needles, he said. Some of the materials were in red biohazard bags. Some were in clear or black plastic bags.
Riverside County records show both hospitals have repeatedly violated state medical waste laws over the last few years.
Last August, for example, Desert Regional was accused of dumping untreated biohazardous waste, including bones, blood and tissue, at the county's Edom Hill landfill in the Coachella Valley. Pharmaceutical waste and sharps such as needles also were dumped at the landfill.
Some of the medical waste was tossed into the regular trash instead of being separated as required by state law, according to county records.
When county environmental health officials inspected Desert Regional's operating rooms three days later, they found a surgical drainage tube containing blood and several syringes mixed in with the regular trash.
99 bags of waste
At JFK Memorial Hospital, according to county records, seven bags of untreated medical waste were dumped at Edom Hill on Aug. 10, 2001. Five days later, county environmental health officials ordered the hospital to comply with the state's medical waste laws.
But on Aug. 17, two days after the county's order, 99 bags of untreated medical waste were dumped at the county's Coachella waste-transfer station, records show. During two subsequent inspections at the Indio hospital, environmental health officials found seven pages of medical-waste violations.
County officials concluded the hospital "intentionally or negligently" violated state medical-waste disposal regulations, according to a Sept. 11, 2001, letter to the hospital. JFK officials were to submit a correction plan by mid-October.
By mid-December, county officials were still pressing the hospital to submit a complete plan, including records showing its workers had been retrained in handling medical waste. The hospital did not fully comply until January, 2002, county records show.
Last April, inspectors turned up still more problems at the hospital. This time, they faulted JFK for its widespread failure to properly bag medical waste and lock storage areas throughout the hospital.
Fallon, JFK's spokeswoman, said the hospital has been trying to fix the problems, but "these things take time."
She said she didn't know when the problems will be fixed, but added: "We're well on our way."
Reach Douglas E. Beeman at (909) 368-9549 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb 14, '03
Thanks jemb, for pasting the article in.
""We found out through trial and error that what we were doing wasn't good enough," she said. "
In other words, 'we did it until we got caught.' "Trial and error"? As though they are having to invent the wheel from scratch.
"Last April, inspectors turned up still more problems at the hospital. This time, they faulted JFK for its widespread failure to properly bag medical waste and lock storage areas throughout the hospital. Fallon, JFK's spokeswoman, said the hospital has been trying to fix the problems, but "these things take time."
In other words, 'you aren't putting enough pressure on us yet (no large fines so far) to force us to comply with the law.'
Last edit by sjoe on Feb 14, '03