A medical waste management company in Fargo, North Dakota, has filed a damning lawsuit against the health care system Sanford Health. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges that Sanford employees surreptitiously attempted to unload a decaying human torso hidden in a plastic container at the facility, forging a signature accepting delivery. The facility is not legally authorized to handle human remains.
The torso incident was among a series of alleged brutal acts and “blatant behavior” by Sanford employees. The disposal company – Monarch Waste Technologies (MWT) – accuses Sanford employees of repeatedly and knowingly mishandling, mislabeling and improperly delivering medical waste to the processing facility in their short-lived relationship. That includes failing to sort medical waste, hiding bags of hazardous waste in other non-hazardous waste containers, and delivering waste in inappropriate containers that can leak.
The two companies had signed two 10-year contracts in September 2020, a lease for the processing plant and a waste treatment agreement. Two years earlier, Sanford’s own medical waste incinerator was shut down for failing to meet emissions standards. It also reportedly sparked complaints from residents, who accused Sanford of strewing medical waste, such as glass vials of blood, around the incinerator, sometimes onto residents’ property.
MWT initially helped Sanford ship medical waste to an MWT facility in New Mexico. But then the two went together to a special waste treatment facility in Fargo, for which MWT took out a $6 million loan for Sanford to pay.
The situation is said to have gone bad from the start, with Sanford immediately failing to comply with waste disposal regulations. And after two years of repeated trouble, things apparently went from negligent to nefarious. In late February 2023, MWT alleges that a Sanford employee broke into its facility, threw trash on the floor, and took photos, which could suggest that MWT was non-compliant and broke their contract. The Sanford employee then returned the trash to the proper containers before leaving. The entire staged photo shoot and subsequent cleanup was captured on the MWT’s surveillance cameras.
On March 3, the torso emerged. A Sanford employee allegedly signed a waste manifest stating that MWT had accepted the waste, even though only MWT employees could accept and sign the waste. The hidden torso was discovered by MWT employees four days later when employees noticed a “rotten and putrid odor”. MWT immediately rejected the remains and filed a form with the North Dakota Environmental Quality Department reporting the incident. MWT says it notified Sanford and the hull then “simply disappeared” without any notification to MWT.
The following day, March 8, Sanford employees allegedly forced their way into the facility, without notice or approval, and began disposing of waste already in MWT’s legal custody. This happened again on March 9, but this time Sanford employees also shut off the water line to the treatment plant’s boiler, which was operating at 1,200° Fahrenheit. The water shutoff risked a deadly explosion and ruptured the boiler, MWT said. Sanford’s lawyers reportedly told MWT in a subsequent email that shutting off the water was a tactic that was “part of the negotiations.”
In April, Sanford sent MWT a notice of cancellation along with photos of the staged scene in February. The photos were dated as if they were taken in March.
“Simply put, this relationship has morphed from a mutually beneficial, environmentally sound medical waste disposal solution, and a potentially positive business relationship, into a made-for-television movie, complete with decaying human remains and staged photographs,” MWT wrote in its court case.
In a statement to KFYR in North Dakota, MWT’s CEO stressed that the company never deals with human remains. “It’s against protocol,” he said. “It’s against every part of the regulation as we have facilities all over the country. Typically recognizable body parts that are large, like a torso with things cut off, that go to proper treatment for a crematorium, not through a shredder. And especially when it’s done under cover of us not knowing. It’s just disturbing.”
A Sanford spokesperson, meanwhile, denied any wrongdoing, telling the outlet: “This lawsuit is the unfortunate result of Monarch’s demonstrated inability to perform waste disposal services it contracted to. [Sanford] denies Monarch’s allegations, will soon be filing claims against Monarch of its own and further looks forward to defending itself in this matter.”