Waste Management Review speaks with Queensland Health operators and suppliers about managing medical waste in the wake of COVID-19.
As governments, working in conjunction with medical and scientific experts, continue to evaluate the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19, Australia’s National Biohazard Waste Industry Committee is suggesting a degree of precaution.
While there is no evidence as of yet that direct, unprotected human contact during the handling of healthcare waste has resulted in COVID-19 infections, medical knowledge is evolving with each passing week based on epidemiological advice.
The committee therefore suggests medical staff responsible for the management of increased, and potentially more hazardous, clinical waste volumes introduce additional safety measures.
To respond to the COVID-19 situation, Logan Hospital, a major hospital in one of the fastest growing regions in Queensland, has set up a specialised Fever Clinic to test patients suspected to have COVID-19.
The clinic is located in a separate concreted alcove adjacent to he hospital’s Emergency Department to protect staff, visitors and other patients, and can only be accessed with consent from triage nurses after an outdoor consultation.
In addition to setting up the new clinic, Wayne Hebblewhite, Logan Hospital Environmental Services Manager, says the hospital is adapting its waste management processes.
“The main change is that we’ve had to double bag all our clinical waste, as well as labelling and locking or zip tying all our clinical waste bins. It’s a change in processes,” he says.
These changes are in line with the National Biohazard Waste Industry committee’s COVID-19 clinical waste guidance, which urges healthcare workers to implement double bagging of waste from COVID-19 confirmed patients.
“By placing contaminated waste into a primary clinical waste bag and tying this bag up prior to disposal in the lined mobile garbage bins – the bag lining the mobile garbage bin must also be tied up – a significant increase in protection can be achieved,” the committee states.
To manage these changes, in addition to heightened levels of waste generation, Wayne has been working closely with Logan Hospital’s clinical and related waste management provider Ace Waste.
“From day one, they sent out all the literature we needed to follow their instructions and gave us clear guidelines on how to manage potentially COVID-19 contaminated waste,” Wayne says.
He adds that Logan Hospital’s Ace Waste Key Account Manager, Ben Huxley, came to the hospital to discuss process changes and walk the Logan team through the process. Wayne says he’s been very supportive.
“We needed additional bins and they were provided the following day,” Wayne says.
“We also required foot pedals for bins in our clinical waste areas to minimise human contact, and Ace Waste were able to provide those to us as well.”
According to Wayne, Ace Waste’s level of service has been consistent throughout the long-standing relationship.
“We’ve always found Ace Waste to be 100 percent professional. Ben is in contact at least once a month to discuss any sorts of issues we have. Nothing is too much trouble, if they can help us, they will,” he says.
David Brown, Wide Bay Hospital & Health Services Region Operational & Support Services Manager, expresses similar sentiments.
“We’ve been working with Ace Waste for 12 months, and in those 12 months we’ve had a seamless transfer from our previous contractor to Ace Waste,” he says.
“We’ve had no issues whatsoever, and to this date, I’ve had zero complaints from any of our facilities about the clinical waste service Ace Waste provides.”
Servicing more than 214,000 people across an area of 37,000 square kilometres, David’s operations cover the Bundaberg, Fraser Coast and North Burnett regions, as well as parts of Gladstone.
“We’ve seen an increase in our clinical waste product, with more kilograms being created, and as a by-product of that, we’ve had to increase the storage capacity of our bins, which Ace Waste helped facilitate,” he says.
Queensland Health’s recently released COVID-19 waste management recommendations stipulate that all staff should be trained in the correct procedures for waste handling.
To support this effort, Ace Waste have provided Wide Bay with extensive educational material that breaks down waste segregation in a simple and consistent manner.
“The material covers: what is clinical waste and what goes in which bin. It’s been very handy having that at this point in time with COVID-19 happening,” David says.
As part of its response to COVID-19, Queensland Health is supporting the internal expansion of Intensive Care and Emergency Department capacity.
According to Ben Huxley, Ace Waste Key Account Manager, Ace Waste is working to support their clients through this expansion by developing bespoke procedures and providing information on safe handling, transportation and waste receiving requirements.
“Since early March, there have been a considerable number of Fever Clinics established throughout our service area, both within hospital campuses and as stand-alone operations,” Ben says.
“An ongoing challenge faced by Ace Waste in supporting these services has been identifying and adapting to the rapidly evolving demands and service delivery platforms.”
Using their intimate knowledge of healthcare industry needs, systems and compliance, Ben says Ace Waste have been able to assist in process development and provide appropriate equipment requirements for each facility it services.
“Ace Waste is also providing expanded waste collection frequencies and facilitating additional servicing demands to ensure the focus of our healthcare professionals remains on providing the highest level of care to our community,” he says.
Ben adds that Ace Waste understands that future changes are likely to occur and is planning for a ‘worst case scenario’.
“Ace Waste is working on further expansion to accommodate future increased demand, and we are well positioned to service the Queensland community should the need arise,” he says.
“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, and it’s now more important than ever to support our valued clients in the medical and healthcare sector.”