CARIBOU, Maine — The state Department of Environmental Protection was in Caribou on Friday to recognize a unique program that safeguards the public against accidental needle sticks.
Patricia Aho, commissioner of the DEP, was at Cary Medical Center to recognize their Community Safe Medical Program and also to award a $10,000 grant that will expand the program into four other communities.
Medical sharps is the proper name for needles, lancets or syringes to treat illnesses such as diabetes.
Last year, the hospital used a $3,500 gift from the Caribou Rotary Club to purchase a state-of-the-art kiosk to provide for the safe disposal of medical sharps. Lauded by the hospital as a “first-in-the-state” program, it now sits at the Caribou Police Department.
A few months later, The Maine Community Foundation tapped into its Aroostook County Fund to donate $3,000 to Cary Medical Center for the purchase of another kiosk that sits in the lobby of the Presque Isle Police Department. The Presque Isle Kiwanis Club also donated funding to help purchase the kiosk.
The $10,000 grant will purchase additional disposal kiosks for the towns of Fort Kent, Madawaska, Fort Fairfield and Houlton.
The kiosks were designed by Chrysalis, an environmental services company, and are equipped with a number of safety features. They have lights to indicate when the unit is close to full and automatic locking systems that prevent people from placing material in them when the units are full.
When the unit does become full, the interior containers are removed and secured and the contents picked up by a medical waste disposal company.
During her visit to the Caribou hospital, Aho said the creative work done by Cary and the collaboration with local law enforcement is a model that has great potential.
“We applaud Cary Medical Center and others associated with this project, including law enforcement, for thinking outside the box in creating the safe sharps disposal program,” she said. “It is wonderful how the community has come together to deal with a serious potential health risk and has established a common sense, accessible program that will benefit the entire region and has possible implications for the state.”
Kris Doody, a registered nurse and the hospital’s chief executive officer, credited Lisa Prescott, a laboratory technician at the hospital, who spearheaded the kiosk program.
At the Caribou Police Department, Sgt. Paul Vincent helps coordinate the program with the hospital. He said that the program has worked very well and also established more contact between the police and general public.
Officers have embraced the project, according to Vincent, and it has become a “way of life for us now.”
“People come to the station with their sharps and often get the chance to speak with our officers about various issues,” he added. “This is a very positive thing and an additional benefit to the program.”
Under state regulations, people who use syringes and lancets at home, the office or elsewhere are required to place discarded sharps in rigid containers that are resistant to leaks and punctures, such as heavy plastic containers with screw-on caps. Full containers may be placed in the trash or taken to a hospital that accepts biomedical waste. Users also can contract with a state DEP licensed biomedical waste transporter to pick up biomedical waste at their home. Maine law also allows discarded sharps to be mailed through the United States Postal Service to properly permitted treatment or disposal sites.
Such disposal measures can be costly, however, as some hospitals charge a fee for disposal, and there also is a cost with mailing. A few towns also prohibit the disposal of household biomedical waste at their solid waste facilities. Such factors have pushed people to dump sharps in public buildings, on playgrounds and in department store restrooms.
The current and expanded program will make the process faster, safer and inexpensive, according to Doody.
Nick Archer, DEP regional director for northern Maine, said that work will begin immediately on the purchase and distribution of the disposal kiosks.