Most people don’t know about a business tucked away in the Waunakee industrial park, and the folks at MERI like it that way.
But Madison Environmental Resource Inc. provides a vital service – safely disposing of medical waste from hospitals and other medical facilities.
The workers are known as the MERI men, said Jim Fitzpatrick, CEO. The company has been around since 1985 and was formed to provide a low cost service to the health care system so funds can be put instead into patient care.
On Oct. 17, members of the Waunakee Rotary Club and the Waunakee Area Chamber of Commerce were invited on a tour of the facility to learn more about MERI.
The nonprofit company protects the public by destroying infectious materials and protects the air and water, as well.
It was formed by four entities, UW Health, the University of Wisconsin, Meriter and St. Mary’s Hospital, and is a partnership between those entities.
MERI has a number of core values. Fitzpatrick said at heart of the culture is trust and honest communication that help build trusting relationships with all of its customers.
“Because of these, we have long relationships with hospitals,” he said.
The company also complies with all of the federal and state agency regulations, treats employees, customers and suppliers fairly, empowers employees to make informed decisions, and expects employees to accept responsibility and be accountable for their actions.
MERI also develops innovative methods and technology to solve problems.
Fitzpatrick noted that the MERI men job is not for everybody. When the company has an opening, it can receive 80 inquiries, but few follow through.
MERI in Waunakee employs 14 workers, including drivers and others who work at the plant, and is seeking another to help with administrative tasks. Several of the employees came from Oscar Mayer.
“It’s a pretty select group,” Fitzpatrick said.
The employees are treated well, and Fitzpatrick said the company sees little turnover.
Some of MERI’s innovative products include mail-back kits for sharps that diabetics might use.
Sharps boxes can be installed in public restrooms for those who do not wish to throw needles in the trash. The US Post Office is the only agency that will handle medical waste boxes, Fitzpatrick said.
Between 85 to 90 percent of the material disposed of at MERI is medical waste or hazardous pharmaceuticals. These are picked up mainly at medical facilities by the MERI men who truck them back to the facility. There they are treated to change the physical and chemical state. They go into a waste hopper where steam is injected to kill bacteria. Material also goes through a microwave that cooks it. The material is shredded and after a one-hour process, can be sent to the landfill as solid waste.
The facility is heavily regulated, Fitzpatrick said. MERI complies with regulations enforced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and others. The equipment is continually tested with results sent to regulators.
MERI moved to the Waunakee facility in 2018 after outgrowing its former space in Madison. Built in 1993, the Waunakee site was formerly owned by the Wisconsin Technical College Foundation. The building sits on 6.2 acres and includes 15,000 square feet of warehouse space and 10,000 square feet of office space.
The building required some upgrades to suit the new use. An antimicrobial floor with germ control was installed, new LED lighting was added, and the electrical was upgraded. A discharge auger was also added to seal up vapors. And the roof was raised to accommodate the machines.
Since then, MERI in Waunakee has provided a safe and proven process for destroying infectious materials. Fitzpatrick noted the company is six months shy of 10 years of operating without a single injury.
But the company doesn’t desire much fanfare.
“Most of all, we go about our business quietly,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that people outside of the industry often get skittish about the work.