Infectious waste from hospital found at landfill for fourth time in three years

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

For the fourth time in three years, infectious waste from Plains Regional Medical Center has been discovered at the Clovis landfill, officials confirmed Tuesday.

City Engineer Justin Howalt said city employees found the infectious waste Saturday during routine procedures at the landfill.

Howalt said the area containing the waste has been secured and inspected by the New Mexico Environment Department and the hospital has hired a company to remove it.

Infectious waste in New Mexico — which can include organs, blood, used needles, or any substance that has a risk of transmitting disease to humans — must be rendered non-infectious before disposal, in accordance with the law. That can be done in a number of ways, including incineration or heat sterilization, according to the New Mexico Environment Department Web site.

Non-infectious waste from PRMC is routinely disposed of at the Clovis landfill.

Elizabeth Brophy, spokeswoman for Presbyterian, the parent company of Plains Regional Medical Center, said all employees at the hospital are trained to properly dispose of infectious waste.

“We’re regretful that it happened and we’re working diligently on the problem,” she said.

Brophy said the hospital committed similar acts in February and October of 2006 and again within the last six months.

Brophy said managers at the hospital are meeting with employees to emphasize proper disposal procedures for infectious waste.

Brophy said no one has been dismissed over the issue.

“It happens across health care systems across the nation. We’re taking any measures we can to make sure the process is known to employees,” Brophy said.

PRMC Director Hoyt Skabelund called the latest incident unfortunate and said he was disappointed it occurred.