EPA Exerting More Pressure on Hospitals

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media , November 19, 2009

A half-million-dollar penalty against a hospital system represents the culmination of what has been a very active year of healthcare scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"I definitely think there is an uptick in activity that will be with us for some time to come," said Charlotte A. Smith, RPh, MS, HEM, director of PharmEcology Services in Wauwatosa, WI, a division of WM Healthcare Solutions, Inc.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Eastern Kansas Health Care System recently settled with the EPA over violations to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) allegedly found at Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Medical Center in Leavenworth, KS, and Colmery O'Neil Veterans Medical Center in Topeka, KS.

RCRA (pronounced RICK-rah) governs hazardous waste management across all industries.

Civil fines against the VA totaled $51,501. On top of that, the VA agreed to invest nearly $482,069 for new systems to better track and manage chemical wastes in the two hospitals. The total penalty was considerable by EPA standards when it comes to hospital enforcement.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the EPA proposed a rule that would reclassify RCRA-governed hazardous pharmaceutical wastes, in theory ensuring larger quantities of these wastes are collected and disposed of properly (i.e. not flushed down the drain or disposed of in municipal waste streams).

If finalized, the regulation would make it easier for hospitals struggling with following RCRA to the letter, and will force hospitals that are doing little at present to start a disposal program for pharmaceutical waste.

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