Medical waste improperly disposed of : Eastern Health

Colin MacLean and James McLeod
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Health Minister Susan Sullivan speaks with reporters Tuesday about an incident Monday in which medical waste from the Health Sciences Centre scattered along a length of Prince Philip Drive in St. John’s. Sullivan said a full investigation will be done to determine how the incident occurred. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

The privacy of several patients was breached when medical waste was improperly disposed of, the province’s largest health authority acknowledged Tuesday.

The trash in question, including name-labelled blood and urine samples, was found strewn about Prince Philip Drive in St. John’s Monday by CBC journalists.

 It most likely fell off the back of a garbage truck.

“Eastern Health has been in communication with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and will be contacting these eight patients to notify them of the privacy breach,” reads a statement issued by Eastern Health.

“Eastern Health sincerely regrets that this incident has happened, and continues to investigate,” reads the statement issued  by the authority Tuesday.

According to the health authority it responded to a complaint of bio-waste on the road by sending out a cleanup crew, once to pick up the waste and twice more to look for any more trash that might have escaped notice.  The cleanup crew recovered four bags of garbage from the side of the road that originated in the Health Science’s Centre emergency department. Most of the non-organic waste was rightfully headed to a landfill, but the biological trash, like the blood samples, are supposed to be disposed of separately. Bio-waste from the hospital is trucked out of province and incinerated to protect patient privacy. It was a breach of that protocol for this waste to be discarded otherwise, said Eastern Health.  Eastern Health stated it “ is committed to continuously communicate to staff the proper procedures for the disposal of biomedical waste.” The incident also made it’s way to the floor of the legislature Tuesday. Health Minister Susan Sullivan said Eastern Health would conduct a larger investigation into how the medical waste got on the road, reviewing security cameras and talking to employees.

“Obviously, I was extremely upset to hear this kind of information and to hear that this particular kind of incident had happened. It’s unacceptable,” Sullivan said. “They will be doing a review via the camera surveillance that they have available there in the emergency department. They will also be doing some staff interviews and then they’ll review the overall processes that are used, in terms of disposal in general.”

But even as the Liberals tried to tie this issue to other privacy breaches at Eastern Health, Sullivan said she believes this is an “isolated incident.”

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball wasn’t convinced.

“There’s a list of privacy breaches here that we need to be concerned about,” he said. “The privacy commissioner is concerned about it enough he’s going to take this in his hands and try and see what actually happened here.”

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Recent comments

  • John Smith
    March 21, 2012 - 20:08

    Marlene has been watching too much "Criminal Minds"

  • Jeff
    March 21, 2012 - 15:28

    I would sat this is a common practice for the Health Science Center. I really can't beleive that the only time someone placed the wrong trash to go out to the landfill it falls off of the garbage truck? Those odds are astronomical. I wond if the landfill was poked around a bit what would be uncovered?

  • Frugal Freddy
    March 21, 2012 - 15:14

    Bio-waste from the hospital is trucked out of province and incinerated to protect patient privacy. Can we not save money and incinerate the stuff here?

  • barbara
    March 21, 2012 - 14:46

    I was in hospital in January for surgery and spent two days. I found everything was good except for one nurse who was so laid back. She took out my I.V. saying you don't need that and forgot to give my 10:00 needle for blood thining. She finally gave it to me at 11;00 and said I better give you your needle before I get in trouble. When she did up my discard papers she was so unconcerned about everything - this is a breeze, its easy, won't take a second. I thought to myself - she will never make it - she wasn't meant to be a nurse - I just hope she takes her job more seriously before something serious happens.

    March 21, 2012 - 11:44

    Eastern Health should be fined and charged any private company that did the same would face some big trouble. Make Them Pay. What If Kids had stumbled on this mess.

    • Wince
      March 21, 2012 - 12:52

      Sure, fine EH... it's just our tax dollars anyhow. May as well make the problem that much worse by taking away money that's better used elsewhere.

  • M
    March 21, 2012 - 09:09

    Marlene, When do the aliens come in and take over the world? I like this movie you are describing.

  • Eli
    March 21, 2012 - 08:52

    Was it really necessary for NTV and CBC Television to describe in detail the contents of that waste? It was sickening at dinner time. We were spared some of it thanks to some quick clicks on the remote button.

  • Don II
    March 21, 2012 - 08:21

    This is just another example of the lack of professionalism and plain lazy and slack attitude that pervades the health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador. How are these people being trained? What are they being trained? I was recently at a hospital and witnessed for myself situations where nurses and doctors went on rounds attending to a number of patients without washing their hands between each patient visit. I witnessed a person with hypodermic needle which had become lodged in his hand. This "needle stick" incident occurred when a person was visiting a patient, it appears that somebody had injected a solution into an IV bag line and left the used needle uncapped on the patients bed. When the visitor sat on the edge of the bed to give something to the patient his hand came in contact with the needle which penetrated his hand. The visitor had to be examined and treated for this needless injury! It appears that a lax and careless attitude is common in the health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador. How many more serious or life threatening mistakes a being made on a daily basis by this bunch?

    • Angie
      March 21, 2012 - 09:26

      M, not sure how close you were to the situation but I recall at the Janeway there are sinks in the exam rooms. Do all the exam rooms in the adult hospitals have these too? Is it possible they washed their hands in the individual rooms prior to examining the patients? If not, that is scary. The needle stick incident should have led to a severe reprimand of that employee, in my opinion.

  • Marlene
    March 21, 2012 - 08:01

    I think this story is absolutely criminal. We have so many nut jobs out there running the streets that could have used this to there advantage. Maybe i watch way to many tv shows but i am sure the nut jobs do too and just imagine a murder or something taking place and a tube of blood poured around and bammm the innocent person goes to jail because of neglect to dispose of this properly. Breach of privacy is just a joke then. Far fetched maybe but possible YES.