VA facility waste disposal measure could help limit the spread of coronavirus
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Over 90,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide. That’s twice the population of the largest city in my congressional district. When a widespread outbreak like coronavirus occurs, the immediate question is how to prevent it from spreading.

As a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which is tasked with overseeing our VA hospitals, public health security is an issue I’ve been working on within the VA system. According to the VA, over 45 percent of veterans are 60 years and older, a population that is at increased risk for infection and illness. While the federal government is taking steps to rapidly address the threat of coronavirus as cases spread across the globe, we should be especially attuned to the health and safety of our senior veteran population and those who live with, love, and interact with them each and every day.

While we don’t have all the answers as to the cause of coronavirus, I do have a simple, common sense solution that could better equip VA hospitals to help limit it from spreading should they have an infected patient. The answer lies among the used needles, bandages, and surgeons’ gloves at the bottom of a medical waste container.

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Medical waste isn’t a topic that most Americans spend much time talking about. We don’t think about where that used needle or surgeon’s gloves end up after surgery or medical check-ups; but it has to go somewhere to be sterilized. I used to manage a family trucking business, and I know full well you can’t ship these hazardous waste materials off to the local landfill any more than you can dump the hazardous chemicals I used to transport for Bost Truck Service.

That’s why I introduced the VA COST SAVINGS Enhancements Act last year. You can tell by the title that there’s not just a benefit to public health, but to public dollars as well. My bipartisan bill would require the VA to install on-site medical waste treatment systems in VA facilities where it would save money. Not only will this benefit our veterans and taxpayers, but also communities where VA hospitals are located.

Imagine that your local VA hospital has several patients with relatively unknown and contagious diseases, including coronavirus or other such viruses. The hospital has two options. The first is to send their waste to off-site facilities. However, that means hauling potentially contagious and infectious waste through local neighborhoods, school zones, shopping areas, and busy highways. Even once the coronavirus threat subsides, does this really make the most sense?

Not only is this dangerous to both the general public and workers who come into contact with the waste, it is also expensive. During the Ebola outbreak, some hospitals reported spending up to $100,000 per day to dispose of waste. That’s over $3 million per month on medical waste disposal alone.

However, there is another option. Hospitals can install technology to sterilize the waste on site. Advances in technology make this option much more affordable than in the past, and even more cost effective and safe than off-site sterilization.

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Several federal health officials, including those at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – our nation’s leading public health institution – have also said that onsite medical waste disposal is a best practice for emergency preparedness and pandemic responses for highly contagious diseases.

On-site disposal systems are safer, more cost effective, and our nation’s leading public health institution recommends them. Now is the time for the VA to act and implement on-site waste treatment systems nationwide.

Bost represents the 12th District of Illinois and is a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.