Of Sharps and Health Care Reform

On my way into work today, I decided to take a few minutes and drop off a full sharps container at the Ingham County Health Department. Now, before I go any further with this post, let me just say that I consider the Ingham County Health Department to be a fine organization that does a lot considering the immense needs of the community and the budget constraints they face. When I was there this morning, they were running a school health fair that looked as if it was going to be well attended. This post is not about them. It’s about health care reform and the environment and people’s needs.

To recycle sharps in Ingham County, you only have one choice of location and that’s to return your closed container to the Environmental Services office in the Human Services building on Cedar Street in Lansing. Here’s what this involves. Park your car in the large parking lot and walk to the building. Enter the door and go up two flights of stairs (there is also a well-marked elevator). Hang a right and walk through the Public Health Department, passing four departments. Take a right and go down a narrow hall. Open a heavy door and pass through. You will now take a series of left and right turns down narrow halls until you reach the Environmental Services office. Open the door, go around the counter, find the cubicle on your left , take the lid off the large tub, deposit your container and voila! You’re done.

Now, I’m fairly able-bodied and this is about a 10-minute errand for me. However, if I were confined to a wheelchair, or used a walker or cane, or even if I had pain walking, this would be a long jaunt, especially if I was trying to carry a large sharps container. Not to mention trying to transport a sharps container on the bus if I didn’t have a car or didn’t drive.

This got me curious so this morning I talked to the Environmental Services staff and asked them if there were alternatives for people who have trouble walking. Apparently, on Thursdays people can drive up and drop off their containers at a garage behind the building. However, the staff person told me, that service is ending in September.

I didn’t ask why because I already know the answer – Ingham County, like public health departments all over the nation, is facing severe budget cuts. They have moved way past tightening the belt notches and are now punching holes in the leather. The Thursday hazardous waste pick-up is no doubt another victim.

I asked the Environmental Services staff person what people who are handicapped do to get rid of their hazardous waste containers and she said, with a look between desperation and resignation, “I guess they just have someone drop them off for them.”

“Or toss them in the trash,” I said, and she shuddered.

I know the last thing on anyone’s mind at this point in the health care reform discussion is where handicapped people can go in Ingham County to drop off their used sharps. But if we can’t even afford to provide a way for people to easily keep hazardous waste out of our landfills, how will we provide health care for everyone? With the rising rate of Type II diabetes, you know there are people out there who won’t or can’t make the trek to the Ingham County Health Department to properly dispose of their sharps. There is not even a penny to address that issue.

But there should be.


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