Treating medical waste on site could help flood-vulnerable hospitals

As hospitals prepare for further severe weather, preparedness plans should include technology that allows hospitals to safely treat infectious regulated medical waste (RMW) on-site, says the Healthcare Coalition for Emergency Preparedness.

A recent Harvard University study investigating the flooding risk to hospitals finds that even relatively weak storms pose a serious flood risk to hospitals along the coast. This study finds that even if hospital buildings may not be flooded the roads around them may be, thus, restricting or preventing access to care. Such flooded roads have often been a major challenge well after storms have passed.

“The coalition has found that transportation constraints, including those of hospital medical waste vendors, is the most overlooked issue in hospital sustainability during a crisis,” says Darrell Henry, senior advisor for the Healthcare Coalition for Emergency Preparedness.

Hospitals that outsource RMW treatment services are most vulnerable when the transportation infrastructure is compromised due to flooding and debris. By deploying on-site RMW equipment at hospitals, those facilities would see an increase in sustainability, emergency preparedness, decreased emissions (by taking trucks off the road), and lower operating costs.

In a report to Congress in 2012, the Veterans Administration (VA) provided data that compared cost estimates between sterilizing infectious medical waste on-site versus hauling waste offsite for treatment. The VA found that on-site treatment costs half as much as hauling waste off-site to treatment, thus providing significant savings for most VA Medical Centers, as well as most private and public hospitals too.

Around 600 hospitals in the US have on-site waste sterilization systems in daily use to treat regulated medical waste and Category A infectious substances. These existing and affordable technologies can kill Category A pathogens, as suggested by the CDC, and all other RMW such that all infected items become sterile and safe for healthcare workers, patients, and even the public.

The Healthcare Coalition for Emergency Preparedness was formed to raise awareness and educate people about often overlooked issues in plans to maintain healthcare facility operations during a crisis and to develop efficient methods to reduce healthcare costs.