When a disposable needle is used by a health-care worker, it must be discarded into an unbreakable protective "sharps" container to prevent an accidental stick that could spread disease.
FORT WAYNE, Indiana When a disposable needle is used by a health-care worker, it must be discarded into an unbreakable protective "sharps" container to prevent an accidental stick that could spread disease.
The sharps container is never opened, but incinerated, and any of the metal needles that survive the heat are sufficiently sterile for safe disposal. The gauze, bandages and latex gloves used for the care of infected patients also are incinerated.
Collecting and hauling medical waste is a regulated public health function. The company that now performs that service for the majority of hospitals in northeast Indiana didn't exist five years ago.
Premier Medical Waste Services was formed in 2000 by Chris Mabie and Troy Stewart, a couple of Noble County entrepreneurs related by marriage. They were joined within six months by Mike Johnson, who worked about five years for a major player in the business.
The company basically "started with three guys, and that was three too many, because it had zero income," Johnson said. "Now, we have five employees. Five employees is not much, but four short years ago we all were doing something else." From a single doctor's office in Kendallville, the company's list of customers has grown to hundreds, including 11 hospitals. It disposes of close to 100,000 pounds of medical waste a month, almost double the amount it was handling this time last year.
Mabie got the idea for the business startup from a friend who had exited the waste management business. The friend had an Albion location the business could use, which was properly zoned.
The first few years, they transported medical waste to an incinerator at an Indianapolis hospital, which accepted waste from other facilities. They had to have it there by 6 a.m., but considered that a small price to break into the business.
They went after business competing on the basis of price and service, Johnson said. Mabie, a tool designer, designed and built a washer capable of cleaning more efficiently the reusable tubs many hospitals use for medical waste.
Johnson handled sales, and Stewart, a certified truck mechanic, maintained the company's trucks. They all drove collection routes. Eventually, they hired a warehouse manager to work with the tubs, and last year, they hired a long-haul truck driver.
Environmental regulation has helped create demand for medical waste-disposal services since 2000 by raising the cost of incineration, which caused some hospitals to shut down their incinerators.
It also required an adjustment by Premier Medical, when the incinerator it was using discontinued operation. It hired its long-haul driver early last year to transport medical waste to facilities in Michigan, Kentucky and Alabama. It uses pressurized steam sterilization as well as incineration facilities.
Growth of its customer base increased its visibility in the area and helped the company attract new business through referrals, Johnson said.
"It's an old-school approach: one customer at a time."
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