GREENFIELD ­— Hancock Regional Hospital breaks ground today on a project officials hope will confirm the expression “one man’s  trash is another man’s treasure.”

In a collaborative effort with Fisk Services of Greenfield, the hospital will construct a new medical waste disposal facility utilizing ozone to sterilize medical “red bag” bio-hazard waste generated by the hospital, other area medical providers and local industries.

When broken down individually, each of the hospital’s 90 beds generates 53 pounds of medical waste per month, from needles and swabs to human tissue. Altogether, the hospital churns out some 57,000 pounds of red bag material annually.

For years, the hospital has contracted with global industry giant Stericycle, which uses incinerators and electro-thermal deactivation (heat, grinding and long-wave radio frequency) to treat and dispose of red-bag material. But hospital officials said the ozone technology was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“Early on, it became obvious this was so environmentally friendly that it could help us reduce our environmental footprint,” said Bobby Keen, hospital president/CEO. “This technology was too exciting for us from a safety and environmental standpoint.”

Current methods of handling medical waste employ incinerators or autoclaves that use high pressure and steam, but both have downsides from high operating costs to emissions issues.

Ozone, however, consists simply of three atoms of oxygen – created by the machine itself from thin air.

“The magic of our machine is that it generates its own ozone with ambient air,” said Stephen Pellegrene, vice president of sales and business development for Fargo, N.D.-based Clean Waste Systems, which will install two sterilizing machines at the 9,520-square-foot treatment facility currently being constructed at Fisk Services’ yard on South Franklin Street.

Ozone is highly oxidative and can break down organic, pathologic and chemical substances at the molecular level, Pellegrene said.

The closed-system machines will shred all medical waste, including “sharps” such as needles and blades and then hit the mass with an “oxidative burst” of humidified ozone, Pellegrene said.

“Our tests showed that misted, humidified ozone was more effective at attacking spores and other bio-hazards,” he said.

Once the treatment process is completed, the ozone is converted to water and oxygen, leaving no harmful emissions or discharges.

“All the operator has to do is pull up a cart and push a button,” Pellegrene said.

The byproduct of the process is a sterilized mixture resembling confetti that is safe for traditional landfills, he said.

In addition to sterilizing the hospital’s red bags, the technology will reduce the volume of its waste by 90 percent, the company’s literature states.

The hospital is investing $1.4 million on the technology and banking not only on “significant savings” on its own waste processing but creating a profit center from the new venture’s excess capacity.

“You’ve got to find a way to diversify your revenue stream,” Keen said. “We have to generate revenue to keep the hospital independent and viable. It’s too valuable to this community.”

The hospital has six letters of intent from other hospitals in the area to handle their waste.

In addition to surrounding hospitals, any number of industries and institutions that generate bio-hazard waste are potential customers, from independent physicians’ offices to long-term care centers, research institutions, prisons and schools, Keen said.

Becky Molnar, the hospital’s organizational development specialist, said residents will also benefit from the local processing plant.

“I was talking with a lady just the other day whose father is diabetic, and they had all these needles that had to be disposed of. We think this will make an impact on the community as well,” Molnar said.

The venture, called O3 PureMed, will be a hospital-owned company that will lease the facility being constructed by Fisk Services and enter into an operating agreement with the long-standing Greenfield waste disposal company to transport and process the material.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Dennis Fisk Jr., Fisk Services vice president. “This is a little bit different than what we’ve done.”

Keen said he considers the venture a “strong partnership” between the two entities that might someday become a true partnership in the enterprise.

Fisk will provide the physical plant, transport the waste, perform the work and provide day-to-day management services for the hospital.

The company is in the process of purchasing the special collection trucks needed for the work and has begun hiring office staff.

“We’re gearing up,” Fisk said. “We’re hiring staff and looking for drivers now.”

Officials are hopeful the $579,000 treatment facility will be up and running by early 2014.

Keen said the hospital will also hire  eight to 10 employees to train staff at other hospitals and clients on policy and procedure, with that number increasing if business takes off.

“Depending on how this goes, we could be expanding fairly quickly,” he said.

Pellegrene said ozone-based sterilization is the state of the art from both an environmental and business perspective.

“We believe this is the right technology, and we’re very excited about this,” he said. “There’s been nothing really new in the industry for probably the last 40 years, and we’re trying to change that.”
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