Survey: Healthcare Environments Free of Medical Waste Key to Fighting Pandemic

Stefanie Valentic, Editorial Director

January 13, 2022

3 Min Read
medical waste
Matthew de Lange/Getty Images

As the number of reported COVID cases skyrockets across the globe, healthcare workers express their declining mental and physical states as hospitals reach capacity.

A new report from medical waste compliance provider Stericycle demonstrates the need for a safe, clean environment to assist healthcare professionals with providing adequate patient care and to prevent further transmission of illness.

"A patient pulled their mask down and coughed on me today when I told them they should be tested for Covid," wrote Twitter user @thatgirl409. "Most of my family thinks this isn't real. The government has just given up. I have $96k invested in a career that's given me severe depression. I just give up. I'm done."

Stericycle's survey questioned 500 healthcare providers and administrators about safety within their organizations. The resulting report examined how the pandemic has amplified efforts to improve patient care and support communities while staffing shortages and the opioid crisis present challenges.

In September 2021, the American Nurses Association emphasized the impact of staffing shortages in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, asking the agency to declaring it a crisis as due to "overwhelmed health systems and burnt out staff."

Seventy-two percent of survey takers indicated "exacerbated feelings of burnout," and 85 percent said stress is evident among providers as the sense of a safe workplace environment continues to spiral downward. One in four providers indicated that would leave the profession in 2021.

Inadequate medical waste management is a significant contributor to the perceptions of patient health and safety. More than 70 percent of respondents noted that not only is patient health a concern, but the risk of improper biohazardous waste disposal places the physical safety of healthcare professionals at risk.

More than half, or 56 percent, of providers and 57 percent of administrations said that monetary resources for biohazardous waste disposal need to increase as the amount of waste generated grows.

"Both providers and administrators agree that improper waste management is a contributor to provider fatigue and burnout, which must be addressed as the pandemic continues to impact the American healthcare system," the report stated.

A majority of workers, or 90 percent of providers and 94 percent of administrators, said that the environmental impact of medical waste is a concern and more should be done to but sustainability efforts in hospital systems. Respondents said this should include greater monetary resources as well as bolstering labor resources to improve patient outcomes and the health and safety of both providers and surrounding communities.

The report also provided insight into at-home care, which presents a different set of challenges when it comes to biohazardous waste disposal and sustainability efforts. The majority, or 85 percent, of respondents said that at-home care environments are a "core challenge" and "pose significant risks to providers’ physical health and well-being."

The opioid epidemic continues to shape patient care, with more than half, or 56 percent, of respondents saying pharmaceutical waste is one of the top contributors to the epidemic. More than 70 percent of survey takers also said COVID-19 is making medical waste disposal more challenging.

"Safer working environments, effective waste management, improved disposal processes, and increased training opportunities could contribute to improved patient care and serve as a catalyst for provider retention and job satisfaction," Stericycle wrote. 

The report also refers sustainability practices among healthcare organizations, recommending a continuous improvement approach to minimizing environmental impacts such as ensuring proper containers for biohazardous waste disposal are provided as well as staff educating regarding waste separation.

"These efforts can help ensure proper disposal and minimize landfill usage (e.g., paper, plastic), while also helping to keep pharmaceuticals out of waterways and reducing the possibility of drug diversion," the report stated.

Staff engagement across all sustainability efforts was recommended to improve the healthcare environment and patient care.

The report concluded that "organizations should consider sharing their sustainability goals at key meetings such as townhalls or set up employee panel discussions to engage staff, build goodwill, and ultimately, unearth potential new ideas for waste processes or management that can create a positive impact on the world."


About the Author(s)

Stefanie Valentic

Editorial Director, Waste360

Stefanie Valentic is the editorial director of Waste360. She can be reached at [email protected].


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