By Dr. Allen Weiss, CEO and President of the NCH Healthcare System
Leading a healthcare system means balancing risks and rewards. Rewards are immense when they include life-saving treatments. The risks can be a spectrum from regulatory shifts to patient safety and harmful waste production.
Healthcare leaders play a role in reform-related changes that often align costs for smart investments and new partnerships. One risk affects our facilities, healthcare networks, communities and the environment: medical waste. Identifying the most appropriate options for managing waste should include evaluating potential partners.
In healthcare settings the presence of medical waste is inevitable. There are five steps that leaders can take to minimize related risks.
1. Recognize that solutions for safely disposing of different waste types affect entire health systems.
One cannot run a safe and sustainable system without a comprehensive approach to managing multiple waste streams. The larger your network, the greater the compliance risk tied to ever-changing regulations.
2. Start by identifying all of your waste streams.
Five years ago, NCH took these first two steps with a third-party services provider. With 715 beds, NCH leaders face daily opportunities to minimize risk whether clinical, enterprise or financial. Waste streams can affect all three risk types.
We determined that a trusted partner could help ensure the proper management of state and federal regulations and industry standards. This partner also helped staff understand these regulations according to The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
3. Understand that the compliant management and disposal of your waste streams could depend on formalizing a partnership with an external expert.
Successfully managing risk related to waste streams involves identifying and managing clinical and enterprise risks, both of which affect financial risks.
Clinical risk varies from staff injuries, to medication errors, wrong-surgical-site operations, and acquired infections.
Enterprise risks involve community perceptions that are typically shaped by breaches in the quality of care. There are more than 3,000 drugs in our formulary. Managing regulated medical and pharmaceutical waste is a challenge.
Properly disposing of regulated medical waste helps to keep drugs out of public water supplies. Training teams on this important benefit is best with options such as live and online training.
4. Focus on educating and re-educating your teams to minimize risks.
NCH teams reduced what was originally thought to be Regulated Medical Waste while doubling our recycling efforts during the first year. Additionally, with a sharps management system using reusable containers, NCH North and NCH Downtown in 2014 prevented the emissions of more than 555,000 pounds of CO2.
To successfully manage waste streams and diminish liability issues, we began by creating a culture of safety and sustainability, which leads to a fifth and final step to minimize risks.
5. Assess every department and motivate your teams system wide to sustain a culture dedicated to these principles.
Understand and apply these five steps to allow your teams to focus on patient care – a priority for delivering the best possible healthcare to our communities. Understand that waste affects entire systems. Identify all possible streams and then adhere to compliant management and disposal practices. Finally regularly educate and motivate your teams to build a sustainable culture.