SACRAMENTO – Health care provider Kaiser has agreed to pay $49 million to settle claims of illegal dumping at its medical facilities, California Attorney General Rob Bonta and several state attorneys general announced Friday.
According to Bonta’s office, the company was accused of unlawfully disposing of hazardous waste and medical waste, along with the protected health information of thousands of patients. The settlement was announced in collaboration with prosecutors in Alameda, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Yolo counties.
“As a health care provider, Kaiser should know that it has specific legal obligations to properly dispose of medical waste and protect patients’ medical information,” Bonta said in a statement. “I am pleased that Kaiser cooperated with my office and the district attorney’s offices and took immediate action to address the alleged violations.”
The charges against Kaiser stemmed from undercover inspections of dumpsters at 16 of the company’s facilities.
Investigators said they found hundreds of hazardous items, including aerosol cans, cleaning products, batteries, electronic waste, syringes, medical tubing containing bodily fluids and medications. The inspections also revealed 10,000 paper files containing the details of more than 7,700 patients.
Bonta said Kaiser responded to the investigation by immediately hiring an outside consultant who conducted more than 1,100 waste audits, and by adjusting operating procedures to improve waste handling, storage and disposal.
“As a major company in Alameda County, Kaiser Permanente has a special obligation to treat its communities at the bedside the same way it treats its patients,” said Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price. Kaiser is headquartered in Oakland.
“This action will hold them accountable in a way that we hope won’t happen again,” Price continued.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said: “Hazardous waste, medical waste and confidential patient information must be properly disposed of. If they are not, we will not hesitate to take action. Protecting patient privacy and the environment is just as important as protecting patient and public safety.”
In the settlement, Kaiser has agreed to pay $47.25 million, consisting of $37.5 million in civil penalties, $4.832 million in attorneys’ fees and $4.905 million in additional environmental projects.
According to the attorney general’s office, the health care provider is also required to engage an independent third party to conduct waste audits over the next five years and spend $3.5 million to implement “enhanced environmental measures” at its facilities in California.
Kaiser released a statement to KPIX about the settlement, which read in part: “We take this matter very seriously and have taken full responsibility to recognize our landfill performance and, in collaboration with the California Attorney General and the county district attorneys, to correct.” waste where it may not meet our standards. We have spent many hours identifying and closing gaps to strengthen our regulated waste disposal program and are confident that we can meet not only the monitoring and reporting requirements of this settlement, but also the numerous requirements that apply on the various types of waste that result from caring for millions of Californians.”