By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Infectious waste from the Plains Regional Medical Center operating room was disposed of improperly during an inspection of the hospital in February conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health.
An employee placed infectious waste in a container for material considered non-infectious, PRMC officials said. Infectious waste in New Mexico — which can include organs, blood, used needles, or any substance that has a risk of transmitting disease to humans — must be rendered non-infectious before disposal, in accordance with the law. That can be done in a number of ways, including incineration or heat sterilization, according to the New Mexico Environment Department Web site.
PRMC medical waste is disposed of weekly by a Roswell company, which sends it to a treatment center in Kansas, according to PRMC officials. Non-infectious hospital waste from PRMC is disposed of at the Clovis landfill.
PRMC spokesperson Tayloria Grant would not say how long infectious waste at the hospital had been improperly disposed.
“We are not pointing a finger at any one employee,” Grant said Monday.
“We want to focus on it as a team.”
PRMC employees undergo extensive training upon employment with the hospital, and they receive additional training throughout their employment, Grant said.
“We don’t make any excuses. However, when (the improper disposal) occurred, we look at it as an opportunity to re-train and re-educate the staff,” Grant said.
Since the New Mexico Department of Health inspection, medical waste has been disposed of in clear bags to mitigate instances of improper disposal, Grant said.
Other health standards were breached at PRMC during the New Mexico Department of Health inspection in February, but Grant would not divulge those findings. The Clovis News Journal has requested the New Mexico Department of Health findings, and the release is pending, an official from a federal health care regulation agency said.
The New Mexico Department of Health inspection, spurred by a confidential complaint, was conducted in February on behalf of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, state officials have said.
Because PRMC was found to be out of compliance with certain health standards during that inspection, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services launched a full survey of PRMC, Medicare and Medicaid Services officials have said. That inspection — also conducted by New Mexico Department of Health officials — took place last week, according to PRMC officials.
CMS and Department of Health officials said they could not comment on the findings of the inspection because a full, written report on the inspection had yet to be issued.
Clinical standards in the operating room and throughout the hospital were deemed suitable, according to Gayla Brumfield, chairwoman of the PRMC Board of Trustees.
“Every inch of our hospital was open (to the inspectors),” Brumfield said.
PRMC was deemed out of compliance with some non-clinical CMS procedures during the inspection, Brumfield said. “There will be a few formal findings,” she said, “in governance, paperwork, and process.”
PRMC will receive a formal, written report of the inspection in two to three weeks, PRMC officials said. The hospital will be asked to submit a plan of corrective action to CMS, and another CMS inspection will follow to ensure the areas have been properly addressed, PRMC officials said.
“In health care,” Brumfield said, “you always need to be raising the bar. That is what is best for patients.”
Inspections of hospitals by regulatory agencies are a routine part of the health care industry, regulation and PRMC officials have said.
Former administrator of the Plains Regional Medical Center, Brian Bentley, resigned from his position shortly after the New Mexico Department of Health inspected the hospital in February. He and hospital officials declined on numerous occasions to give a reason for his resignation.
Hoyt Skabelund, 37, of Socorro, will take over as hospital administrator in late June.
PRMC, which is owned by Presbyterian Healthcare Services, serves more than 110,000 people living within a 100-mile radius of the city of Clovis, according to its Web site.