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Here's why Bellingham's St. Joseph hospital agreed to pay a $16,000 fine

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is closing its 14-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit in Bellingham and moving it to Sedro-Woolley, where it is expected to open in summer 2019.
PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center is closing its 14-bed inpatient rehabilitation unit in Bellingham and moving it to Sedro-Woolley, where it is expected to open in summer 2019. The Bellingham Herald file

Peace Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham agreed to pay $16,000 to settle several violations of Washington state's dangerous waste laws, according to a Tuesday press release by the Department of Ecology.

The violations were found during inspections conducted in 2017, including:

▪ Inappropriate disposal of dangerous waste by shipping it to a facility that was not licensed to handle that type of waste.

▪ Staff not properly trained to handle waste.

▪ Failure to submit a dangerous waste report to the Department of Ecology.

▪ Failure to conduct or document weekly inspections of waste storage areas.

Ecology originally set the fine for the violations at $24,000, but that total was reduced due to the hospital's history of compliance and willingness to address the violations, the release said. Under the settlement, St. Joseph's agreed not to appeal the fine, saving costly litigation for both sides.

“Improperly managing hazardous waste can lead to environmental damage, and can threaten human health,” Ecology’s Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction program manager Darin Rice said in the release. “We appreciate the hospital’s efforts to find a fast resolution to these issues and their desire to make sure violations of this nature do not happen again.”

According to the release, hospital pharmaceuticals contain toxic ingredients that if not properly disposed of or handled correctly can cause harm to the environment or threaten the health of other people.

“PeaceHealth takes its responsibility to the environment very seriously," St. Joseph’s Chief Operating Officer Cherie Martin said in the release. "As soon as the issues were identified, we took immediate steps to ensure our processes for waste disposal are in full compliance with state law."

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