Enforcement and Assistance in New England
Health Care Industry
In April of 2004, EPA New England launched a Health Care Initiative to foster increased compliance with environmental laws by New England's hospitals. This effort was undertaken after EPA's New York office discovered numerous violations at hospitals in the New York/New Jersey area.
Over the past year, EPA New England has worked extensively with staff at health care facilities to ensure they know, understand and adhere to federal environmental laws, which are central to protecting the public's health and safety. We are partnering with health care facilities, providing grant funds and compliance assistance, and urging these facilities to self-audit.
As part of the National Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) program, we are partnering with 143 New England health care facilities to achieve mercury and solid waste reductions. The primary goal of the H2E effort is to educate health care professionals about pollution prevention opportunities in hospitals and health care systems. To date, these New England hospitals have reduced their use of mercury by an estimated 3,000 pounds. In addition, EPA awarded two grants worth a total of $134,000 to support projects aimed at helping hospitals comply with environmental regulations.
A $60,000 EPA grant is funding a project to test new ways to reduce pharmaceutical waste in hospitals and dispose of it more effectively. The project involves a partnership with H2E, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, PharmEcology Associates, the NH Department of Environmental Services, the NH Hospital Association and EPA.
A $74,000 grant from EPA is being used to train inspectors from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO) to incorporate environmental compliance and pollution prevention into their accreditation process. JCAHO accreditation is required by hospitals to receive Medicare funding. This project involves a partnership among a number of health care organizations, including the American Hospital Association and EPA.
As part of the Region's health care assistance program, we conduct workshops and maintain regular, on-going communication with close to 1,000 individuals within this industry via an electronic mailing list. Through our outreach activities, we are providing information that facilities need to help them reduce the environmental impacts of their operations and improve their understanding of, and compliance with, environmental regulations. We also provide information to help facilities realize the cost savings and environmental benefits that can be attained through improvements in recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation.
Another facet of EPA New England's Health Care Initiative is to encourage facilities to take advantage of EPA's Audit Policy. This policy is designed to safeguard human health and the environment by providing incentives for regulated entities to voluntarily self-police in order to ensure compliance with federal environmental laws and regulations. To take advantage of these incentives, regulated entities must voluntarily discover, promptly disclose to EPA, expeditiously correct, and prevent recurrence of future environmental violations. Disclosures are often preceded by consultation between EPA and the regulated entity, so that they can discuss mutually acceptable disclosure details, compliance, and audit schedules. In Fiscal Year 2005, EPA New England entered into disclosure agreements with six health care institutions covering 14 major hospitals and 60 of their affiliated facilities.
Along with our efforts to achieve compliance through assistance and incentives, we remain committed to using our enforcement authority when faced with situations that threaten public heath and the environment or involve significant violations. For example, in 2005, we cited the Veteran's Administration Hospital in White River Junction, VT, for improper handling and storage of hazardous waste. Along with citing numerous violations, EPA's complaint requires the VA to come into compliance with applicable hazardous waste laws, and seeks a penalty of $372,254. The proposed fine is one of the largest ever issued by EPA against a Veterans Administration facility nationwide. It is also the largest fine ever issued to a federal facility by EPA New England for improper handling and storage of hazardous waste.
Under EPA New England's Federal Facility Program, we have worked to improve VA Hospitals' environmental compliance for the past eleven years, through both compliance assistance and enforcement activities. On-site Environmental Management Reviews have been conducted at eleven VA hospitals in New England -- including one at the White River Junction facility in August of 1999. The VA Hospital in White River Junction is the sixth VA hospital in New England to receive an EPA Administrative Complaint.