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Hospitals weigh safety, sustainability when reprocessing single-use devices

WALTHAM, MASS. — Hospitals have been open about the increasing pressure to balance skyrocketing health-care costs with safety and sustainability. Recycling everything under a health-care facility's roof — from thin-film packaging to polystyrene cafeteria plates to medical devices — has become one way of saving money and showing patients hospitals are as concerned about the environment and consumption as they are about saving lives.

But industry veteran Len Czuba of Czuba Enterprises Inc., a Chicago-based product design and development firm that specializes in plastics engineering for medical devices, took a strong position against the quietly growing trend of reprocessing single-use medical devices.

"We're being asked to cut to the bone on the materials that we use, to minimize the design, to reduce the packaging, and yet every one of these things even further reduce the margin of safety of these devices," he said at the Plastics in Medical Devices conference, held May 13-15 in Waltham. "And it concerns me that [the Food and Drug Administration] or anybody is considering the reprocessing of single-use devices."

Czuba also expressed concern about cost-saving projects like the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) and its related membership group Practice Greenhealth. Such groups might be promoting a double standard by encouraging hospitals to phase out PVC and other materials because of the perceived dangers of chemical exposure, while at the same time encouraging hospitals to save money by striking deals for reprocessed medical devices when those items could also seriously harm patients.

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