Medical waste improperly disposed of : Eastern Health

Published on March 21, 2012
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.”