The Medical University of South Carolina and an associated facility have been fined nearly $120,000 for dozens of infectious waste violations, including failing to protect the public from potential exposure to germ-carrying medical waste, as part of a state investigation of area hospitals. from Charleston.
State enforcement documents released this week show that MUSC and Ashley River Tower failed to properly retain needles and other infectious waste, and the medical waste ended up in unapproved landfills.
MUSC and Ashley River allowed infectious waste to be shipped to the landfills in Charleston without treating the waste to kill germs, as required by state law, enforcement data shows. Three landfills reported finding infectious waste from MUSC and Ashley River in the fall of 2021, enforcement orders show.
The waste included body tissue from MUSC in one landfill. Bloody hoses and used needles were also found at some landfills, and garbage was found on the ground, enforcement records show.
Both MUSC and Ashley River were fined $58,000 each — two years after regulators named the medical centers for some of the same violations.
A former DHEC waste regulator said it is a serious matter not to treat infectious waste before sending it to landfills.
“If it’s contagious, it needs to be treated to avoid exposing people to any contamination or infection,” said Art Braswell, a landfill consultant and former DHEC solid waste director.
The medical university hospital system, which treats patients from all over South Carolina, is one of the state’s most prestigious health care systems. Founded in 1824, the university 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 to other parts of South Carolina in recent years. Ashley River Tower is a Charleston-area digestive, cancer, and heart facility that is part of the MUSC system.
MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said the medical university system is working to improve its waste disposal practices.
The system has improved training, analyzed the root cause of the problem and uses daily waste audits in an effort to improve, she said. The university system, which continues to meet with DHEC on the matter, has also launched a waste disposal education campaign for employees and holds regular meetings “to reinforce the importance of, and steps towards, proper waste disposal,” she said in an email. Wednesday.
DHEC officials did not respond to questions from the state about the investigation on Tuesday or early Wednesday.
Other hospitals mentioned
Two other healthcare facilities, Trident Medical Center and the Naval Health Clinic Charleston, were also fined for not following infectious waste rules, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said. DHEC struck Trident Medical with a $55,300 fine and Naval Health with a $14,400 fine.
In Trident’s case, the violations focused on the discovery of infectious waste in both a landfill and a waste transfer station, neither of which should have ended up with the material.
An enforcement order indicates that Trident sent infectious waste to a transfer station in North Charleston from October to December 2021. DHEC has ordered Trident to remove the waste from the transfer station. Medical waste found at the transfer station included bloodied syringes and tubes, as well as a bag of urine, a DHEC enforcement order said.
Trident spokesman Rod Whiting said the medical facility is committed to following the rules and “we took swift steps to address the findings of DHEC. The company, as did MUSC and the Navy Clinic, paid the fines.
“Our efforts focused on training and educating colleagues,” Whiting said in a text message. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep our staff, patients and the community safe.”
Trident Medical is part of the HCA Heathcare System, a leading national healthcare company with 182 hospitals.
A Naval Health spokesperson could not be reached.
The fines, first made public this week in a report to the DHEC board, are apparently the latest in an investigation into how hospitals handle and dispose of medical waste.
Earlier this year, the agency slapped three other hospitals in Charleston and one in Conway with more than $143,000 in fines for medical waste violations. Those enforcement actions were made public in May.
With most recent fines totaling $185,000, DHEC has now imposed at least $328,000 in fines this year on major coastal medical facilities for infectious waste violations.
Agency officials say solid waste dumps have raised concerns about the improper disposal of infectious medical waste. These landfills typically contain household waste and are not designed to accept untreated, disease-ridden medical waste.
By law, hospitals, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities are expected to treat infectious waste to kill germs before it is sent to landfills for disposal. Treatment includes incinerating the material, steam sterilizing the waste or chemically disinfecting it, DHEC said.
Infectious waste includes bloody bandages, body parts and fluids, and used needles. Such waste can be hazardous if not disposed of properly as it may contain germs from sick patients.
South Carolina has approximately 9,000 entities producing infectious waste and 30 registered carriers of the material. The state has two facilities, including one in Western Columbia, that processes medical waste. For hospitals that do not process their own waste, the processing facilities do that for them.
The latest fines for infectious waste violations aren’t the first for MUSC and Ashley River.
In 2020, they were fined $14,800 each for some of the same violations cited in the most recent enforcement actions, according to DHEC records.
These include failing to manage waste to protect the public from exposure and failing to treat infectious waste before discarding it, data shows. MUSC and Ashley River were each fined after state inspectors found eight violations for each medical facility.