The cost of not providing proper hazard protection

by Hank Rahe

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The members of Congress, whom we have elected to represent our interests in the legislature, have been lamenting the high cost of healthcare in our country for years. Even though we have Congressional hearings, committees and special interest groups all lobbying for change, we only seem to chase the issue around and around.

It appears, at least to some of us senior citizens, that at times healthcare cost controls are put into place to satisfy a political agenda, not necessarily in the best interests of the masses.

Does your plan allow the physician to use the most effective methods available to treat the illness? Or does it insist he first try less-effective pharmaceuticals, or treatments, in hopes of being less costly to the insurance company?

For example, many of the older and less-expensive antibiotics do not completely eliminate the bacteria, and this enables them to mutate to a more resistant strain. It does not require rocket science to figure out that having to re-treat infections, treat secondary infections, or, when some of the alternative treatments fail resulting in additional treatment, end up being more costly. This approach only frustrates the physician and prolongs the treatment and recovery, while adding to the discomfort and stress of the patient.

These same regulatory groups in Washington are attempting to reduce the “burden” on industry by eliminating or softening safety regulations. The decrease of regulations leads to the ultimate “fools gold” of false, initial savings being repaid many times over in the long run. Some of the major “burden” reducing attempts litter the landscape of our industrial past. For example, asbestos, lead paint, exposure to hazardous materials and many other issues were ignored for a long time.

Over exposure of the workforce to hazardous materials has and still is resulting in both direct and indirect cost to employers. The direct cost is the loss of trained personnel in terms of productivity and out-of-pocket medical costs. In extreme cases, it may also result in costly litigation and damages. The indirect cost is the burden on healthcare cost due to the treatment of injuries.

Elimination or postponement of regulations impacting worker safety, such as those involved in providing a work environment safe from hazardous materials, adds to the long-term cost of healthcare. Postponement leads to an increasing number of individuals who become exposed and continued exposure of those who have already been exposed to hazardous materials. This can only translate to more people needing long-term care. In a number of cases, exposure to such materials is prevalent in the very industries whose mission is to provide healthcare support, such as chemical companies, pharmaceutical and healthcare providers. For example, nurses administering chemotherapy are placed at risk to being exposed to levels above acceptable limits. Yet many oncology practices do nothing to provide even the basic level of protection for their workers.

Regulatory loopholes allow oncology offices to fall outside of the typical local authority, which dictates the facility requirements. This places the nursing caregivers in long-term jeopardy. The healthcare cost savings realized by not providing proper protection is small, compared to the cost of having to treat yet another cancer patient.

Hank Rahe is director of technology at Contain-Tech in Indianapolis. He is an expert in the areas of conventional and advanced aseptic processing. He is the past chairman of the board of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers, and is a member of the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board.


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