|Photo Credit: Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News|
"Reprocessing saves over 2 million pounds of medical waste from being sent to landfills each year," said Darren J. Wennen, vice president of marketing and business development for Minnesota-based SterilMed Inc., a reprocessing company with 1,700 customers nationally and about 100 in Michigan.
Hospitals typically ship the devices to a company such as SterilMed, which decontaminates, thoroughly cleans, inspects, repackages and sterilizes them before sending the devices back to the hospital.
The St. John Providence Health System, a six-hospital system in southeastern Michigan, will save about $1.2 million this year by reprocessing, according to SterilMed.
The system's largest hospital, the 804-bed St. John Hospital & Medical Center in Detroit, will save about $400,000 by reprocessing and will keep more than 12,000 pounds of medical waste from landfills.
"Health care is just a tremendous wasteful organization," said Vicki Boyce, a clinical nurse specialist who chairs St. John Hospital's Go Green committee.
Single-use medical reprocessing — which has come under fire over patient-safety concerns but has been deemed safe by the federal government — is just one way hospitals are cutting waste. Several Metro Detroit hospitals also have growing solid-waste recycling programs, where they're able to keep thousands of tons of waste from landfills.
Reprocessing saves millions
Hospitals and health systems such as the Detroit Medical Center, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Oakwood Healthcare Inc. and the St. Joseph Mercy Health System also are reprocessing devices, while some such as St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor have branched out to use reusable sharps' containers instead of disposable containers.
Most Michigan hospitals use reprocessed devices, said Dave Finkbeiner, senior vice president of advocacy at the Michigan Health & Hospital Association.
"Since we started the program here in 2006, we've saved more than $2 million by using reprocessed devices," said Bruce Lawrence, supply chain project manager for the eight-hospital Detroit Medical Center, which since 2006 has reprocessed 16 tons of devices such as clamps, tourniquet cuffs and electrophysiological catheters.
Over the past year, Beaumont Royal Oak sent 8,155 single-use devices to SterilMed for reprocessing, diverting 14,537 pounds from landfills and saving $500,000, said Beaumont spokesman Robert Ortlieb and Eric Tenner, manager of its central processing department. The hospital and the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers also donate working but unused medical instruments.
And hospitals increasingly are switching disposable sharps' containers that handle needles, syringes and scalpel blades for reusable containers.
Prior to making its switch four years ago, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor had been using more than 22,000 disposable containers a year. Now the Ann Arbor hospital and hospitals in Saline and Howell collectively use about 1,500 reusable containers a year, said Wayne Root, manager of central sterile reprocessing for St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.
And Dearborn-based Oakwood Healthcare Inc.'s four hospitals believe the move they are planning will cut up to 13 percent of its medical waste and reduce medical waste costs by up to 11 percent, said Keith Cottrell, Oakwood's resident regional manager over environmental services.
The increased acceptance among hospitals to reprocess single-use devices, though, hasn't come without some people's concerns that using refurbished devices isn't safe.
Legislation introduced last year in the state legislature would have prohibited using devices labeled for single use that had been reprocessed, but the hospital association successfully pushed to amend the law to allow hospitals to use reprocessed medical devices as long as it's done by a reprocessor registered and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Finkbeiner said.
"The FDA has reported consistently that there is no evidence that reprocessed single-use devices … create an elevated health risk to patients," Finkbeiner said "In all, the reprocessed devices account for approximately 2 percent of all medical equipment labeled for single-use."
The U.S. Government Accountability Office also has issued reports, most recently in 2008, that confirm the safety of reprocessing.
SterilMed said its reprocessed devices are "substantially equivalent to a new product with respect to cleanliness, functionality and sterility," Wennen said.
Solid waste recycled, too
Hospitals also are expanding solid-waste recycling.
In 2009, St. John Hospital was able to cut about 10 percent from its annual waste stream by recycling 105 tons of paper, 54 tons of cardboard, six tons of single-use devices, four tons of plastic, three tons of batteries and one ton of cooking and motor oil, plus a half-ton of chemicals, Boyce said.
And last year, the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers recycled 28 percent of its total waste stream or 2,433 tons, while Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital recycled 1.7 million pounds.
Oakwood's hospitals and two long-term care centers now partner with a vendor who recycles up to 65 percent of its solid waste, Cottrell said. An energy facility also burns some waste, captures the steam and recycles that into electricity, he said.
"The main reason we do this is because we want to be very accountable in how we manage our waste," Cottrell said.
"Managing our waste in landfills is a very responsible thing to do."