NA Hospital waste disposal again raises concerns
By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
June 22, 2003

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Last April a technical team from the city of Huntsville, Texas, USA described as “unacceptable” the solid waste disposal practices at the New Amsterdam hospital and recommended immediate corrective active.

“A health facility should be aware of the health hazards it is creating in the community and therefore this blatant act should not be tolerated by the citizens of New Amsterdam,” the team stated. The team in its report noted that “the regional hospital dumps its medical waste across the road and burns it there due to the fact that the door of the furnace is broken.”

This past week the issue again came to the fore as passers-by, property owners, business-persons and students of New Amsterdam Multilateral Secondary who attend classes in a makeshift building nearby all voiced their disapproval over the offensive smell emitting from the hospital’s incinerator and a garbage dump opposite the one-block long complex along Strand.

In 2001, the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association (BBC&DA) had voiced its displeasure over general conditions at the institution and in particular over its waste disposal practices. However since then nothing much has changed and employees still continue to burn waste on a vacant lot opposite the hospital. The incinerator built some years ago was “not built properly” according to porters but regional officials say the facility no longer has the capacity to handle the volume of waste generated daily by the institution.

Burning surgical waste
According to one porter surgical waste including “after births” are burnt in the incinerator while garbage is dumped on the vacant lot and occasionally burnt whenever the Town Council is tardy in clearing the site.

However the hospital is not the only guilty party since residents who live nearby also use the site as a garbage dump. The irregular clearing of the site and the frequent burning of waste over the years created the health hazard and the offensive odour which affects passers-by on a daily basis. On several occasions this newspaper has noticed not only household garbage but also medical waste including needles on the vacant lot.

Acting Hospital Administrator, Leila Clarke told this newspaper last week that a local funeral parlour is still contracted to dispose of surgical waste including limbs and other body parts.

Incinerator capacity
Both Clarke and the former Regional Health Officer, Dr Kalika Persaud recently wrote the head porter on the issue drawing his attention to the unhygienic practice of dumping waste on the vacant lot and instructing him to cease doing so with immediate effect. However the head porter explained that only three porters including himself service the entire hospital during the morning shift. Apart from this, he says, the incinerator cannot accommodate all the waste that is generated daily by the hospital. As a result the door has to remain open because of over-spilling while some of the waste has to be dumped on the vacant lot. Waste is therefore burnt in the incinerator with the door open.

Another problem confronting porters is the build-up of charred residue which they are unwilling to clear because of concerns about their health. This residue was last cleared some two months ago by a private citizen who was paid some $2,000.

According to Clarke the hospital has six porters on a 24-hour basis with three on duty during the morning, two in the afternoon and one on the night shift. The hospital she said needs a compliment of 26 porters to adequately service it on a 24-hour basis. But the institution has been seriously affected over recent times by high staff turnover and few or no replacements.

Clarke explained that the needles used in the wards are broken and collected in cans and should be buried every two weeks.

Another major area of worry for New Amsterdamers and health officials is that the same porters who work in the wards, the theatre, the Emergency Unit, Outpatients’ Department and other areas of the hospital also have to carry out waste disposal tasks. Relatives of sick persons seeking attention at the institution have long complained about the unavailability of porters to assist in taking them to the upper flats of the building.

On several occasions recently the incinerator had been out of operation. One hospital source told this newspaper that the Regional Administration has been promising to build a new incinerator over the past four years since the problem was first brought to its attention.

Modern incinerator
Last year Regional Vice-Chairman, Kadim Bacchus told this newspaper that $1 million had been budgeted to rehabilitate the incinerator. Budgetary constraints in the past had prevented the administration he said from addressing the problem. A team of Japanese experts he recalled had suggested that a modern incinerator was needed at the hospital since the existing facility could not handle the institution’s medical waste.

Yesterday Bacchus told this newspaper that some work was done last year on the incinerator but acknowledged that the present facility did not have the capacity to handle the volume of waste generated on a daily basis. According to Bacchus the new hospital now under construction will be equipped with a modern incinerator. However, the new hospital is expected to be completed by 2005 and according to Bacchus, based on existing financial constraints, a new incinerator may not be in the offing at the present institution.

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