Kaiser Permanente Fine Shows Important Role Of Medical Waste Disposal

Proper medical waste disposal is critical for safeguarding public health and the environment, and one company is now facing the consequences of neglecting this crucial responsibility.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta recently announced a nearly $49 million settlement with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals that resolved allegations that the healthcare provider illegally disposed of medical waste, hazardous waste and protected health information at several Kaiser facilities across the state. 

As part of the settlement, Kaiser must not only pay the fine but must also take significant steps to prevent future illegal disposals. 

It’s another example of a company mishandling hazardous waste and facing costly fines and bad public relations. 

If your company generates medical or hazardous waste, or has confidential or proprietary information that requires careful disposal, here’s what you can learn from the Kaiser Permanente case.

The Case Against Kaiser Permanente



The $49 million settlement came after investigators searched unsecured dumpsters destined for disposal at publiclymedical waste disposal accessible landfills. They found hundreds of items that are considered hazardous or medical waste, from aerosols to cleansers, sanitizers, batteries, electronic waste, syringes, medical tubing with body fluids and pharmaceutical waste. 

Investigators also discovered nearly 10,000 paper records that contained the private information of more than 7,700 patients. 

After the improper disposal of these items, the California Department of Justice joined several district attorneys to expand the investigation, looking further into the disposal practices of Kaiser throughout the state.

A third-party consultant hired by Kaiser performed more than 1,100 additional trash audits to improve compliance and help modify storage and disposal procedures. 

As part of the settlement, the largest healthcare provider in California must:

  • Pay $47.25 million that includes civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and funds for supplemental environmental projects
  • Pay an additional $1.75 million in civil penalties if within five years of entry of the final judgment Kaiser has not spent $3.5 million to implement enhanced compliance measures at its California facilities
  • Retain an independent third-party auditor who is approved by the Attorney General’s Office 

The third-party auditor must perform no fewer than 520 trash compactor audits at Kaiser’s facilities to ensure that regulated wastes are legally disposed of. In the end, the allegations include violating several laws, including:

  • California’s Hazardous Waste Control Law
  • Medical Waste Management Act
  • Confidentiality of Medical Information Act
  • Customer Records Law
  • Unfair Competition Law
  • Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

The penalties are hefty for even one of the largest healthcare networks in the nation. For smaller companies that generate medical waste or hazardous waste, fines of this magnitude could mean financial ruin and irreparable damage to their reputation. 

Understanding Your Medical Waste Obligations



Managing medical waste is a complex process due to its diverse composition, which includes biohazardous materials, pharmaceuticals, sharps and chemical agents, each requiring distinct disposal protocols. Even certain types of medical waste like electronics require special e-waste disposal considerations.

While most medical waste generators are aware that they have responsibilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), without the right training and employee oversight procedures in place, it’s not guaranteed that your waste will end up at the appropriate disposal sites.  

Cradle to grave requirements are always the responsibility of the waste generator, meaning they are responsible for any hazardous waste they generate even during the disposal process. The correct use of medical waste disposal containers, biohazardous bags, labels and secondary packaging is also a critical component during the cradle to grave process.

Medical institutions, from hospitals to private medical practice offices, are also responsible for safely discarding any sensitive information, including patient data and medical histories. As in the case of Kaiser, allegations included violating the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

You may even generate medical waste that is not considered hazardous. In fact, while many types of medical waste are considered hazardous, nearly 85% of medical waste is not classified as hazardous, according to the World Health Organization.

Examples of non-hazardous medical waste include plastic packaging, clean glass and plastic, paper and cardboard, and office products. In California, aerosol cans are not considered hazardous waste as long as they are completely depleted. It’s important to ensure that ALL of your waste streams 

How A Disposal Company Can Help Ensure Compliance



If the medical waste you generate is hazardous, you are responsible for ensuring its safe disposal. That means the disposal company you choose is an important decision for the future of your medical business. 

In California, a vendor must have a medical waste disposal license. According to the California Department of Public Health, only medical waste transporters listed with the health department are allowed to transport medical waste. 

To ensure a vendor is compliant, it’s also important to ask for:

  • Documentation of compliance history
  • Licenses and permits
  • Proof that personnel are properly trained
  • A statement of qualifications (SOQ)
  • Whether subcontractors are used, and if so, which companies
  • A list of references

A disposal company should also be experienced in transporting medical waste. As we discussed above, there are several types of medical waste, and each type has its own set of regulations that must be followed during the transport and disposal process. 

One of the most important qualities of a disposal company is that it offers a walk-through program. This type of program offers your business the opportunity for an expert in medical waste management to evaluate your company and offer any insights into needed areas of focus, such as:

  • Waste storage evaluation
  • Emergency readiness
  • Hazardous waste evaluation

An evaluation like this can help catch inconsistencies, breakdowns or gaps in your waste management practices that can lead to fines. This type of evaluation will also give you confidence that the company you are about to work with not only has the experience necessary to safely and properly dispose of your waste but can customize a plan based on your specific needs.

When evaluating waste disposal companies as partners, make sure you work with a company that is willing to provide you with a free quote. Obtaining a quote can empower a medical business or organization to thoroughly assess and plan for the financial implications of this type of investment, ensuring informed choices that align with your budget and goals.


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