Needle, bloody bandages found in city landfill

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ Staff Writer

A hypodermic needle and two bloody gauze bandages that came from a Plains Regional Medical Center dumpster were recently discovered by employees of the Clovis city landfill, PRMC Administrator Hoyt Skabelund said Tuesday.

While both items are considered infectious waste — classified as any substance that has the potential to transmit disease to humans — some city and county officials say they are not overly concerned.

Skabelund informed Curry County commissioners of the hospital’s waste infraction during their regular Tuesday meeting.

By New Mexico law, infectious waste must be rendered non-infectious before disposal. That is most commonly done through incineration or heat sterilization, according to the New Mexico Environment Department Web site.

“I’m embarrassed,” Skabelund said, “but we (PRMC) are working on this (medical waste disposal).” Skabelund said the laws surrounding the disposal of medical waste are extremely strict.

The infectious waste at the landfill was found Sept. 28 during a random inspection performed by gate workers, according to Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas. Thomas said landfill workers periodically inspect the trash for harmful material.

Thomas said he is unconcerned about the incident. “One needle in 140 tons of trash is not a big thing,” he said.

Curry County Commissioner Ed Perales said he does not condone the hospital’s infraction, but he does understand how it could happen.

“I run a business and help run a county,” Perales said. “So, I understand how small things slip by.”

Perales said he considers the incident to be a minimal infraction. “I’m glad they (PRMC) are making us (Curry County Commission) aware,” he said.

This was not the first incident involving improper disposal of medical waste at PRMC. In February, an inspection conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health found deficiencies in proper disposal of infectious waste. Infectious waste from the hospital’s operating room was improperly disposed of during a hospital inspection in February conducted by the Health Department. An employee placed infectious waste in a container for material considered non-infectious, PRMC officials said.

PRMC officials were instructed by federal health officials to address the problem. A surprise inspection by state or federal health department officials typically follows such inspections, according to federal health officials. Although it is rare, if federal and state regulations are continually breached, hospitals can lose a chunk of their federal funding.

PRMC produces 10,555 pounds of hazardous waste each month, according to Skabelund. The medical waste is disposed of weekly by a Roswell company, which sends it to a treatment center in Kansas, according to PRMC officials.

Skabelund said PRMC is working diligently on the problem.

“I spent the first two weeks of October meeting with PRMC employees to review the policy regarding hazardous waste disposal in detail,” he said.

“Hopefully this will be the hospital’s last disappointment of this magnitude,” Skabelund said.