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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

For Mishandling Bloodborne Pathogens, North Country Hospital Faces Hefty Fine

Charlotte Albright
A Report by Vermont's Occupational Safety and Health Administration Finds Mishandling Of Bloodborne Pathogens At North Country Hospital in Newport.

North Country Hospital, in Newport, is facing about $42,000 in fines for what Vermont’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors say were “serious” problems relating to the storage and handling of blood borne pathogens.

The inspection was triggered by an employee’s allegation  that the practices had been repeatedly reported to hospital administrators, who failed to take swift action.

According to the VOSHA report, an inspector showed up unannounced at North Country Hospital on June 27. He did a thorough tour and follow-up interviews to investigate a complaint from the Facilities Manager that, quote, “employees are repeatedly exposed to bloodborne pathogen and human waste in the environmental services department and laundry originating from maternal childbirth and medical-surgical clinical areas.”

The 100-page report finds that such spills did occur in the laundry area and that some bio-fluid storage containers leaked. The inspection also found that not all employees were fully informed about the hazards they handled, and needed better protective gear and eyewash stations for possible exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals. 

Hospital spokeswoman Wendy Franklin says North Country had already formed a task force to address the complaint  a few days before the inspector arrived, and continues to take remedial action.“We’ve looked at the process for transporting linens, we purchased a special lift in the laundry room to facilitate movement for dirty laundry so I think we are taking steps to alleviate some of these concerns,” Franklin said.

Franklin notes that about two months after the VOSHA inspector visited, the hospital was inspected by the state licensing agency for the same complaint, and was not cited for violations at that later date.

“North Country Hospital is committed to full compliance with  all VOSHA standards and more importantly ensuring all employees are all protected from hazards in the workplace--that’s just a given,” Franklin said.

But some of those employees told the inspector they were afraid to be interviewed, for fear of recrimination. Four, including the original complainant, have left or been laid off since the inspection, but the hospital says that downsizing is unrelated to the VOSHA case.

North Country must show that it has fixed the problem by Thanksgiving, but it has 20 days to contest the citations and the $42,000 fine. Hospital officials say they won’t make that decision until seeing still more documentation from VOSHA.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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