Kaiser agrees to $49-million settlement for illegal disposal of hazardous waste, protected patient information

Los Angeles, CA - July 13: California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks during a news conference in recognition of Military Consumer Month at Patriotic Hall on Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Los Angeles, CA. He is discussing ways to help protect California service members, veterans, and their family members from scams and fraud. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles in July. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Kaiser Permanente agreed to $49 million in settlement after an investigation by the California attorney general and six different district attorney offices found that the healthcare giant illegally disposed of hazardous medical waste and protected patient information in unsecured dumpsters.

State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced the settlement on Friday that also requires that Kaiser take significant steps to prevent future unlawful dumping.

“The illegal disposal of hazardous and medical waste puts the environment, workers and the public at risk,” Bonta said. “It also violates numerous federal and state laws. As a healthcare provider, Kaiser should know that it has specific legal obligations to properly dispose of medical waste and safeguard patients’ medical information.”

The state attorney general partnered with six district attorney offices — including Alameda, San Bernardino, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Yolo counties — in the undercover probe of 16 Kaiser facilities statewide that first began in 2015.

Investigators found hundreds of hazardous and medical waste items such as syringes, tubing with body fluid and aerosol cans destined for public landfills. The inspections also uncovered more than 10,000 pages of confidential patient files.

During a news conference on Friday, Bonta said that investigators also found body parts in the public waste stream but did not elaborate.

Oakland-based Kaiser, which is the largest healthcare provider in the state with 700 facilities and nearly 9 million members, was cooperative with the state attorney general’s office, officials said.

The healthcare giant hired a third-party consultant to carry out more than 1,100 trash audits but denied being aware of any body part being found during the investigation.

“We take this matter extremely seriously and have taken full responsibility to acknowledge and, in cooperation with the California Attorney General and county district attorneys, correct our performance regarding landfill-bound trash where it may have fallen short of our standards,” Kaiser said in a news statement.

Kaiser pledges a three-step approach to improving its waste disposal, which includes mandatory annual staff training to ensure compliance.

As part of the settlement agreement, the healthcare provider must retain an independent third-party auditor approved by the state and local law enforcement involved in the investigation.

Kaiser faces a $1.75-million penalty if adequate steps are not taken within a five-year period.

“As a major corporation in Alameda County, Kaiser Permanente has a special obligation to treat its communities with the same bedside manner as its patients,” said Alameda County Dist. Atty. Pamela Price. “Dumping medical waste and private information are wrong, which they have acknowledged. This action will hold them accountable in such a way that we hope means it doesn’t happen again.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.