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Blue Mountain Hospital's new biowaste disposal process makes healthcare news - Medically Speaking, Volume One, Number Five, 11/14/13

Blue Mountain Hospital attracted national attention again last month with its new biowaste disposal system that has environmental activitsts drooling and the hospital's accountants smiling.

In late October a camera crew and reporters visited Blue Mountain Hospital to do a story about the hospital's new SteriMed® System 70 waste disposal machine. This machine permits the disposal of biowaste material with an efficient, environmentally safe, economically sound process. The world may be looking at the benefit to the environment, but hospital officials are thrilled with the financial benefits.

"This didn't start out with 'let's figure out a greener way.' It was 'we're in a pinch and this is one place we can save money.' Did we realize this much was going to be saved? No. But it's very, very significant," said Blue Mountain Hospital's Environment of Care Director Trent Herring.

According to Herring, the hospital and Utah Navajo Health System, Inc., together, were paying $4,000 to $5,000 per month to dispose of medical waste products before the SteriMed® System. For the next three years BMH and UNHS will pay about $2,500 per month for medical waste disposal (a savings of roughly $72,000). In the next seven years the savings will be roughly $300,000. That equates to about $350,000 to $400,000 in savings over a ten-year period for medical waste disposal.

"This is a significant savings to a small critical access hospital that needed, in the end, to save all the money it could," said Donna Singer, CEO of Blue Mountain Hospital.

Herring explained that his predecessor, David Lyman and Cliffard Sagg, of UNHS, made a trip to Chicago, Illinois three years ago to see the SteriMed® System in operation. At that point they decided they wanted it, but there was an existing contract with an incineration company that delayed the purchase of the SteriMed® system for two years. With the old system, all the medical waste was incinerated and the ashes were taken to the landfill, just like a wood burning stove, Herring said. But the ash from medical waste can't just be disposed of like ashes from a wood-burning stove. It has to go into a landfill, and that's the final resting place for that ash, he added.

With the new SteriMed® System 70 machine the waste is reduced in size by about 70%, and can be disposed of like any other household waste. It is just placed in the Blue Mountain Hospital dumpster and is hauled to the landfill from there, Herring said.

"With both systems it's the same outcome but, with the new system it's, by far, less pollution," Herring added. "I didn't realize the environmental effects it had until all the stuff was going on up in Salt Lake. An incinerator apparently burned some medical waste too hot, and emitted a large cloud of black smoke in an area that was originally zoned industrial, but has now been zoned residential. The incinerator method worked well for thirty years, but now the SteriMed® System is a better way to dispose of medical waste.

"With us being so rural, that's where we benefit the most with the SteriMed® system," Herring said. "I think this system is perfect for a rural area like ours. With the way we do it now, there are fewer handlers than before. So from a safety aspect, handling of biowaste is cut in half. The SteriMed® System 70 is a giant biowaste garbage disposal. It disposes of everything from your normal red bag waste up to your sharps (needles), syringes, glass tubing and dialyzers, which are a big thing."

Much of the hospital's medical waste comes from its dialysis center, labor and delivery ward, laboratory and surgical center. The waste also includes plastic tubing with blood and plasma remnants, glass and plastic vials used for blood and urine collection, placentas and other tissue resulting from childbirth, and a variety of other solid and organic waste.

According to Herring, Blue Mountain Hospital disposes of about 1,000 pounds of waste each month, and UNHS disposes of about 500 pounds per month. That adds up to 18,000 to 20,000 pounds per year. The final product of the disposal process, called Ploof , is a multi-colored confetti-type material, about 30% the amount of the original waste product. And Ploof is just as clean as the original bags, needles, syringes and tubing were before they were ever used. Herring said the best part about working with the SteriMed® company is that they went to the State of Utah, San Juan County and the City of Blanding to ensure that all state, county, and city regulations, as well as federal EPA regulations, were met. And they provided copies of all necessary regulatory documents that are now on file with Blue Mountain Hospital and UNHS.

Another benefit for Blue Mountain Hospital and UNHS is the savings in transportation costs associated with transporting biowaste three or four hours to an out-of-state disposal site. Instead, now a technician from Blue Mountain Hospital simply takes the biowaste to the hospital's mechanical room, and places it in the SteriMed® System 70, a machine comparable in size to a small photocopier. The technician also tosses his protective rubber gloves into the machine, pushes three buttons, and waits 15 minutes for the disposal process to finish. The machine shreds, softens, disinfects and removes the water from the medical waste using an environmentally friendly, EPA-registered disinfectant called SterCid® that is already inside the machine. The machine creates no toxic output. When the process is finished, the resulting Ploof material is placed on a conveyor belt, dropped into a plastic disposal can, and disposed of alongside the regular trash in accordance with solid waste regulations. One machine the size of the SteriMed® System 70 is adequate to service a 100-bed hospital for a regular 12-hour shift, Herring said.

"Instead of red barrels sitting out on the dock for one to two weeks, waiting to be transported, now they sit for maybe a day, and sometimes they're taken care of the day we get them. Before we started using the SteriMed® System, sometimes items would sit for three to four weeks before they were transported," Herring said.

"It was our only option," Singer said of the SteriMed® System. "The costs to us were huge, not only financially but in terms of human risk and environmental hazards. Storing our waste had potentially serious consequences, including the spread of infectious disease and the wind blowing the toxic waste onto city streets. One time our van was hit while in transit and medical waste was strewn all over the highway."

Blue Mountain Hospital can now also accept biowaste material from other facilities and even local residents. According to Herring, the hospital has accepted plastic water bottles full of syringes and needles from local residents, taken items from the nursing program at the Utah State University Eastern-Blanding Campus and the San Juan County Health Department. He said the service is available to any organization or members of the community who wish to dispose of biowaste items. Anyone wishing to use this service can contact the hospital.

"Blue Mountain Hospital is a perfect example of a hospital that uses the SteriMed machine to not only cut costs and health risks, but also to benefit the environment and its community," said Dwight Morgan, CEO of SteriMed Systems. "In addition to the environmental benefits of disposing of medical waste cleanly, safely and at the source, more and more healthcare companies are creating their own green initiatives. It's no longer good enough for hospitals to be great healthcare providers. They must also be great community partners and environmental stewards. SteriMed Systems is a solution to a global problem."

New biowaste disposal machine at Blue Mountain Hospital...Burdette Shumway puts biowaste from Blue Mountain Hospital into the SteriMed® System 70 that is located in the hospital's mechanical room. The machine has saved the hospital thousands of dollars in biowaste costs. Photo courtesy of Barry Staver Photography

It all goes into the trash...BMH biowaste material is placed in the trash, after being

put through the SteriMed System 70 waste disposal machine. Photo courtesy of Barry Staver Photography

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