HAZWOPER Training for Healthcare Professionals

HAZWOPER Training for Healthcare Professionals:

HAZWOPER is a set of guidelines mandated by the OSHA. It outlines the necessary training and safety measures for workers handling hazardous substances. This training is vital, not just for those in traditional hazardous waste operations but also for healthcare professionals.

In the healthcare sector, the likelihood of encountering hazardous materials, ranging from chemical spills to biohazardous waste, is significant. Therefore, HAZWOPER training equips workers with the knowledge and skills to safely manage these situations, ensuring their safety and that of their patients.

Through this training, these professionals are not only complying with regulatory standards but are also enhancing their ability to respond effectively to emergencies involving hazardous substances, thereby playing a crucial role in public health and safety.

In this article, we will discuss its importance for healthcare professionals and how to earn this credential… Read on…

Understanding the Unique Risks in Healthcare Settings

A. Identification of Hazardous Materials in Healthcare Environments

  1. Chemical Hazards
    • Formaldehyde: Used in preservation and disinfection. Exposure limits are 0.75 parts per million (ppm) over an 8-hour workday, according to OSHA.
    • Ethylene Oxide (EtO): Utilized for sterilizing medical equipment. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 1 ppm over an 8-hour period.
    • Glutaraldehyde: Common in disinfectant solutions. Recommended exposure limit is 0.2 ppm (ACGIH threshold limit value).
  2. Biological Hazards
    • Bloodborne Pathogens: Including Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Specific handling protocols mandated under OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030).
    • Medical Waste: Potentially infectious materials requiring specific containment measures (e.g., sharps in puncture-resistant containers).
  3. Radiological Hazards
    • Ionizing Radiation: Used in diagnostics and treatment (e.g., X-rays, CT scans). Exposure guidelines follow the ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable), with dose limits set at 50 millisieverts (mSv) per year for radiation workers.
  4. Pharmaceutical Hazards
    • Cytotoxic Drugs: Used in chemotherapy, posing risks of mutagenicity, teratogenicity, and carcinogenicity. Safe handling guidelines are detailed in USP Chapter <800>.

B. Case Studies Highlighting Incidents in Healthcare Settings Involving Hazardous Materials

  1. Case Study 1: Ethylene Oxide Exposure
    • Incident Overview: Overexposure in sterilization unit due to equipment malfunction.
    • Health Effects Observed: Symptoms included headaches, dizziness, and nausea among staff.
    • Measurements and Analysis: Air quality tests revealed EtO levels at 3 ppm, significantly above OSHA’s PEL.
    • Resolution and Learning: Improved equipment maintenance and installation of better ventilation systems.
  2. Case Study 2: Formaldehyde Spill in Pathology Lab
    • Incident Overview: Accidental spill during specimen preservation.
    • Health Effects Observed: Acute exposure symptoms such as eye irritation and respiratory distress reported.
    • Measurements and Analysis: Airborne formaldehyde measured at 2 ppm post-spill, exceeding OSHA’s limits.
    • Resolution and Learning: Implementation of spill response protocols and staff training on hazardous material handling.
  3. Case Study 3: Needlestick Injury with Bloodborne Pathogen Risk
    • Incident Overview: Healthcare worker sustained a needlestick injury while disposing of used sharps.
    • Health Effects Observed: Potential exposure to HBV, HCV, and HIV.
    • Measurements and Analysis: Post-exposure prophylaxis initiated, and serological testing conducted.
    • Resolution and Learning: Enhanced sharps disposal procedures and reinforcement of personal protective equipment (PPE) use.

These cases demonstrate the importance of understanding the risks and maintaining stringent safety protocols in healthcare settings when dealing with hazardous materials.

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Why Do These Professionals Need Such Training

These settings are unique environments where various types of hazardous materials and situations are encountered regularly. Identifying and understanding these specific risks is crucial for these professionals to ensure safety and compliance with health standards.

  • Chemotherapy Agents: Handling chemotherapy drugs presents a significant risk due to their cytotoxic nature. These professionals must be trained in safe handling, storage, and disposal of these agents to prevent accidental exposure, which can have serious health implications.
  • Radiological Materials: Radiological emergencies, such as accidental exposure to radioactive substances used in diagnostic imaging or cancer treatment, pose a unique set of challenges. These situations require specific protocols to minimize exposure and contamination.
  • Infectious Agents: The handling of infectious agents, particularly those classified as biohazards, is a common risk in this sector. This includes exposure to bloodborne pathogens, airborne viruses, and other infectious materials that require stringent controls and safety practices.
  • Pharmaceutical Wastes: Disposal and management of pharmaceutical waste, which may include expired, unused, or contaminated medications, present specific risks due to their potential for environmental harm and drug diversion.
  • Anesthetic Gases: The use and disposal of anesthetic gases in surgical settings pose risks of exposure, which can have health implications for medical care workers if not properly managed.
  • Laboratory Chemicals and Reagents: Chemicals used in laboratories for various tests and procedures can be hazardous if mishandled. This includes reagents that are corrosive, toxic, or reactive.
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting Chemicals: The frequent use of strong disinfectants and cleaning chemicals in these settings poses risks of respiratory and skin irritation or more severe health issues if used improperly.
  • Medical Equipment and Batteries: Certain medical devices and their batteries contain hazardous materials that require special handling during disposal to prevent environmental contamination and personal injury.
  • Biomedical Waste: Handling and disposing of biomedical waste, including sharps, contaminated items, and human tissues, requires specific protocols to prevent injury and infection.

Understanding and managing these specific risks is a critical component of HAZWOPER training for these professionals, ensuring they are equipped to handle hazardous materials and situations safely and effectively.

Read related article: How to Choose the Best HAZWOPER Training Programs?

Legal and Regulatory Framework: HAZWOPER Standards for Healthcare Settings

A. Explanation of OSHA’s HAZWOPER Standards (29 CFR 1910.120)

  1. Overview of HAZWOPER Regulation
    • Purpose: The HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) standards were established to protect workers dealing with hazardous substances, including hazardous waste, and to ensure safe and healthy working conditions.
    • Scope: 29 CFR 1910.120 covers five distinct operations, including clean-up operations, corrective actions involving clean-up, voluntary clean-up operations, operations involving hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities, and emergency response operations for releases of hazardous substances.
  2. Key Provisions of HAZWOPER
    • Safety and Health Program: Requirement for a written safety and health program tailored to the risks of specific worksites.
    • Training Requirements: Specifications for different levels of training, such as 40-hour courses for workers involved in hazardous waste operations and 24-hour courses for occasional site workers.
    • Medical Surveillance: Mandatory medical examinations and consultations for workers potentially exposed to hazardous substances.
    • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Standards for proper selection, provision, and use of PPE in hazardous work environments.
    • Monitoring: Requirements for air monitoring to detect hazardous levels of substances.
  3. Emergency Response Plan
    • Development and Implementation: Necessity for a detailed emergency response plan outlining procedures for potential hazardous substance incidents, including evacuation plans and first aid measures.

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B. Specific Requirements for Healthcare Settings

  1. Risk Assessment and Planning
    • Identification of Hazards: Assessment of potential hazardous substances in healthcare settings, such as chemical, biological, and radioactive materials.
    • Customization of Response Plans: Development of emergency response plans that address the specific types of hazards present in healthcare environments.
  2. Training Adaptation for Healthcare Professionals
    • Specialized Modules: Inclusion of healthcare-specific scenarios in training programs, addressing risks like bloodborne pathogens and pharmaceutical waste.
    • Continuing Education: Requirement for healthcare professionals to undergo regular refresher training, in alignment with the ever-evolving healthcare environment.
  3. Decontamination Procedures
    • Protocols for Patient Exposure: Establishment of procedures for decontaminating patients exposed to hazardous substances, which may differ from standard industrial protocols.
    • Facility-Specific Guidelines: Development of site-specific decontamination guidelines, considering the layout and operations of healthcare facilities.
  4. PPE Requirements in Healthcare
    • Selection Based on Risks: Tailoring PPE requirements to the specific risks encountered in healthcare settings, such as high-level disinfection suits for handling infectious materials.
    • Training in Proper Usage: Emphasis on training healthcare workers in the correct use and disposal of PPE specific to healthcare-related hazardous materials.
  5. Recordkeeping and Compliance
    • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of all HAZWOPER-related activities, including training, incident responses, and medical surveillance.
    • Regulatory Compliance: Ensuring adherence to both OSHA standards and other relevant regulations, such as those pertaining to biohazardous waste.

The integration of OSHA’s HAZWOPER standards into healthcare settings underscores the importance of recognizing the unique hazards present in these environments and ensures that healthcare professionals are adequately prepared and protected while handling hazardous substances.

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The Role of Healthcare Professionals in Hazardous Situations

These professionals often find themselves at the forefront when hazardous materials are involved, either within their facilities or in the broader community. Understanding their critical role in such scenarios is paramount for ensuring safety and effective response.

  1. Typical Scenarios Involving Hazardous Materials:
    • Chemical Spills in Laboratories: Accidental spills of chemicals or biohazardous materials in clinical or research laboratories.
    • Radiological Exposures: Situations involving exposure to radiological materials, often found in diagnostic imaging departments.
    • Handling of Chemotherapy Agents: Oncology departments frequently deal with cytotoxic drugs, which require careful handling to prevent exposure.
    • Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Outbreaks of contagious diseases can transform regular patient care areas into high-risk zones.
    • Biomedical Waste Management: Regular handling of biomedical waste, which can be hazardous if mishandled.
    • Accidental Exposures: Incidents such as needlestick injuries or accidental exposure to bodily fluids.
    • Mass Casualty Incidents: Scenarios where patients contaminated with hazardous materials, such as in industrial accidents or terrorist attacks, are brought into healthcare settings.
  2. The Importance of Response Readiness:
    • Minimizing Health Risks: Prompt and correct response to hazardous material incidents reduces the risk of harm to these workers, patients, and the broader community.
    • Maintaining Operational Continuity: Effective handling of hazardous situations ensures that facilities continue to operate smoothly and safely.
    • Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Adherence to OSHA and other regulatory standards is crucial for legal compliance and avoiding potential liabilities.
    • Building Public Trust: Competent handling of hazardous materials enhances public confidence in healthcare institutions.
    • Preparedness for Unforeseen Events: Training and readiness empower them to respond efficiently to unexpected incidents, a critical aspect of emergency preparedness.
    • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Hazardous situations often require a coordinated approach among different departments and professionals, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and communication.

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Understanding the Scope of HAZWOPER

At its core, HAZWOPER encompasses regulations found primarily in 29 CFR 1910.120, which detail specific protocols for hazardous waste operations, emergency response to hazardous substance releases, and cleanup of contaminated sites. These regulations mandate various training levels, emergency procedures, and health monitoring for workers engaged in these activities, as specified in this:

1910.120(q)(9) – Medical surveillance and consultation: Monitor workers’ health to detect adverse medical conditions. Provide access to regular medical examinations and consultations for workers potentially overexposed to hazardous substances during their work. Medical surveillance for responders depends on their job function during an emergency and must meet the requirements of 1910.120(f). Access to and maintenance of monitoring and medical records must be maintained according to 29 CFR 1910.1020.

Citation: OSHA Website; https://www.osha.gov/emergency-preparedness/hazardous-waste-operations/standards

For these professionals, the relevance of HAZWOPER is particularly significant. Healthcare settings often involve the handling of biohazardous materials, chemical agents, and other potentially infectious or toxic substances. In such environments, the risk of exposure to hazardous materials is not limited to just the handling of these substances but also extends to emergency situations like chemical spills, laboratory accidents, or the influx of patients contaminated with hazardous materials.

Incorporating HAZWOPER training into practice ensures that staff are prepared to respond effectively to these risks. This includes understanding the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), decontamination procedures, and emergency response measures. Moreover, it instills a culture of safety and preparedness, which is critical in these settings where the stakes are particularly high.

Through HAZWOPER, these professionals are equipped not just with the technical know-how to handle hazardous materials, but also with the situational awareness to anticipate and mitigate risks, ensuring both their safety and that of their patients.

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Which Training is Ideal for This Profession

The ideal HAZWOPER training for medical care workers generally depends on their specific role and the level of potential exposure to hazardous materials they face in their work environment. However, some common recommendations include:

  1. 24-Hour HAZWOPER Training:
    • Best suited for healthcare professionals who may occasionally be exposed to hazardous materials but are not regularly engaged in emergency operations.
    • This training typically covers basic principles of hazardous waste management and emergency response procedures, appropriate for those who might work in supportive roles during a hazardous material incident.
  2. 40-Hour HAZWOPER Training:
    • Ideal for medical care workers who are more likely to be involved in emergency response operations or handle hazardous materials regularly.
    • This comprehensive training includes detailed instruction on a wide range of safety and health hazards, emergency response, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
    • Particularly relevant for staff in emergency departments, laboratories, and waste management roles in these settings.
  3. 8-Hour HAZWOPER Refresher Training:
    • Mandatory annually for those who have completed either the 24-hour or 40-hour training.
    • Keeps them up-to-date with the latest practices, regulatory changes, and safety techniques in hazardous waste operations and emergency response.
  4. HAZWOPER First Responder Awareness Level (FRA) and Operations Level (FRO) Training:
    • FRA training is suitable for individuals who are likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release and initiate an emergency response.
    • FRO training is more advanced, and intended for those who respond to releases for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property, or the environment from the effects of the release.
  5. Specialized Modules or Add-On Training:
    • Certain healthcare roles might require additional specialized training, such as dealing with specific types of hazardous materials (e.g., chemotherapy drugs, radioactive materials) or focusing on particular scenarios (e.g., infectious disease outbreaks).
  6. Customized Training Programs:
    • Some healthcare institutions may develop customized HAZWOPER training programs tailored to their specific operational needs and the types of hazards their staff are most likely to encounter.

Specialized Modules

Customized HAZWOPER training is needed in roles due to the unique hazardous materials and situations specific to medical settings. Different roles have varying levels of exposure and responsibilities related to these hazards, and tailored training ensures that each professional is adequately prepared for the specific risks they may encounter. This approach also ensures compliance with regulatory standards and enhances the overall safety of both staff and patients.

  • Additional Training: Depending on their specific roles, workers may need additional training modules. For example, radiology staff may require specialized training in handling radiological emergencies.
  • Customization: Tailored training focusing on the unique hazards and protocols relevant to specific departments or roles within the this setting.
  • Case Study: Radiology staff effectively responding to a radiological exposure incident, highlighting the importance of role-specific HAZWOPER training.

Choosing the right level of HAZWOPER training involves assessing the nature of potential hazards in the workplace, the roles and responsibilities of healthcare professionals, and the regulatory requirements applicable to their specific settings.

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How They Can Take the Hazwoper Training

To take HAZWOPER training, they can follow these steps:

  1. Identify the Required Training Level: HAZWOPER training varies in depth and duration, depending on the role and the level of exposure to hazardous materials. Common levels include 24-hour and 40-hour training courses for general site workers and 8-hour refresher courses for those already certified.
  2. Research Accredited Training Providers: It’s important to find training providers accredited by relevant authorities, such as OSHA in the United States. Training can be provided by universities, professional organizations, or specialized training companies.
  3. Choose a Training Format: HAZWOPER training is offered in various formats, including in-person, online, or a hybrid of both. Online courses can offer greater flexibility, which is beneficial for busy professionals.
  4. Register for the Course: Once a suitable course and provider are selected, they can register for the training. This may involve completing an application form and paying any associated fees.
  5. Complete the Coursework: Participants must complete all required coursework, which may include lectures, hands-on exercises, and examinations. The 40-hour training, for instance, is comprehensive and covers a wide range of topics pertinent to hazardous waste operations and emergency response.
  6. Attend Practical Training (If Required): For certain levels of HAZWOPER training, practical, hands-on training is mandatory. This is often conducted in a controlled environment simulating real-life hazardous situations.
  7. Pass the Final Examination: To receive certification, participants usually need to pass a final examination that tests their knowledge and understanding of the material covered.
  8. Receive Certification: Upon successful completion of the course and exam, healthcare professionals will receive a HAZWOPER certification, which is typically valid for one year.
  9. Undertake Annual Refresher Training: HAZWOPER certification requires annual refresher training to maintain validity. This training is usually an 8-hour course that updates participants on new regulations, procedures, and safety practices.
  10. Stay Informed: Healthcare professionals should stay informed about any changes in regulations or guidelines related to HAZWOPER training and hazardous materials handling.

By following these steps, these professionals can ensure that they receive the appropriate training to safely handle hazardous materials and respond effectively to related emergencies.

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What Does the Training Contain?

HAZWOPER training consists of several core components designed to prepare workers, including these medical practitioners, for handling hazardous materials safely. These components are structured to ensure both compliance with regulations and the practical readiness to face hazardous situations.

  1. Core Training Elements:
    • Safety and Health Procedures: Fundamental knowledge about workplace health and safety procedures related to hazardous waste.
    • Regulations and Compliance: Understanding of relevant OSHA standards, including 29 CFR 1910.120, which govern hazardous waste operations and emergency services.
    • Hazard Recognition and Assessment: Training on identifying and evaluating hazards associated with hazardous waste and emergency response.
    • Chemical and Physical Hazards: Education about the types of hazards, including chemical and biological hazards, physical hazards (like explosions), and ergonomic hazards.
    • Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Instructions on the appropriate selection, use, and maintenance of PPE.
    • Decontamination Procedures: Procedures for the decontamination of individuals and equipment exposed to hazardous substances.
    • Emergency Procedures: Training in emergency response, including spill containment and evacuation procedures.
    • Medical Surveillance: Guidance on health monitoring for individuals exposed to hazardous materials.
  2. Specialized Modules for Healthcare Professionals:
    • Handling Biohazardous Materials: Specific protocols for managing biohazards commonly found in these settings.
    • Infection Control and Prevention: Methods for preventing and controlling infections, particularly in the context of hazardous material exposure.
    • Patient Decontamination: Specialized procedures for decontaminating patients exposed to hazardous substances.
    • Hazard Communication: Training in effectively communicating hazards within a healthcare setting, including labeling, signage, and reporting.
    • Incident Command System (ICS): Understanding of ICS and its application in emergency scenarios involving hazardous materials.
    • Psychological Aspects of Hazardous Material Incidents: Addressing the psychological impact on these workers and patients in hazardous situations.
    • Waste Segregation and Disposal: Specific training on segregating and disposing of hazardous waste in these facilities.

This training is essential for them to effectively and safely manage hazardous materials, ensuring both their safety and that of their patients. The specialized modules for medical care workers add an additional layer of relevance and applicability to the unique environments and scenarios encountered in these settings.

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Training and Competency Assessment in HAZWOPER for Healthcare Professionals

A. Required Training Modules for Healthcare Professionals

  1. Basic HAZWOPER Training
    • Duration and Content: Minimum of 24 hours of instruction, covering basic principles of hazardous waste management and emergency response.
    • Topics: Includes chemical hazards identification, use of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), and basic first aid for chemical exposure.
  2. Advanced Handling of Specific Hazardous Materials
    • Chemical Specificity: Training on handling and exposure limits for specific chemicals prevalent in healthcare, like formaldehyde (PEL: 0.75 ppm) and ethylene oxide (PEL: 1 ppm).
    • Equipment Use: Instructions on the use of advanced PPE, such as Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) and full-facepiece respirators.
  3. Emergency Response Procedures
    • Simulation Training: Conducting mock drills for spill response and emergency evacuation, with a focus on time-sensitive actions (e.g., initial response within the first 15 minutes).
    • Incident Command System (ICS): Understanding roles and communications in an emergency scenario.
  4. Decontamination Techniques
    • Practical Demonstrations: Hands-on training in setting up decontamination zones and using decontamination equipment.
    • Waste Segregation: Training in the classification and segregation of hazardous waste (e.g., identifying and handling biohazardous materials).
  5. Medical Surveillance Procedures
    • Health Monitoring: Education on protocols for regular health check-ups and specific tests (e.g., blood tests for lead levels if lead exposure is a risk).

B. Assessment of Competencies and Certification Processes

  1. Competency Evaluations
    • Written Exams: Assessing knowledge of hazardous materials, safety protocols, and emergency response.
    • Practical Assessments: Demonstrations of PPE donning and doffing, decontamination procedures, and emergency response actions.
  2. Certification Requirements
    • Initial Certification: Issued upon successful completion of training modules and passing of competency assessments.
    • Certification Validity: Typically valid for a specific period (e.g., 12 months), after which refresher training is required.
  3. Refresher Training
    • Annual Requirement: OSHA mandates an 8-hour refresher course annually to maintain HAZWOPER certification.
    • Content Update: Ensuring that refresher training includes updates on new regulations, technologies, and best practices in hazardous waste management.
  4. Record Keeping and Documentation
    • Training Records: Maintenance of detailed records of all training sessions, assessments, and certifications.
    • Compliance Auditing: Regular audits to ensure compliance with OSHA standards and internal policies.
  5. Specialized Training for Specific Roles
    • Targeted Modules: Additional training for healthcare workers in specialized roles, such as laboratory technicians or waste management personnel.

This comprehensive training and competency assessment structure is crucial for ensuring that healthcare professionals are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to safely handle hazardous materials and respond effectively to related emergencies.

How They Can Benefit From the Training

Professionals can greatly benefit from HAZWOPER training in several ways:

  • Enhanced Safety Awareness: HAZWOPER training equips these professionals with knowledge about potential hazards in the workplace, such as chemical, biological, and radiological materials. This awareness is crucial for ensuring their safety and that of their colleagues and patients.
  • Improved Emergency Preparedness: These workers gain skills to respond effectively to emergency situations involving hazardous materials, enhancing their ability to manage such incidents safely and efficiently.
  • Compliance with Regulations: Completing HAZWOPER training, ensures compliance with OSHA and other regulatory requirements, which is essential for legal and operational reasons.
  • Skills in Handling Hazardous Materials: The training provides practical skills in handling, storing, and disposing of hazardous materials, which is vital in many healthcare settings.
  • Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Professionals learn how to correctly use PPE to protect themselves during exposure to hazardous substances.
  • Reduction of Workplace Incidents: Knowledge and skills gained from HAZWOPER training can lead to a reduction in accidents and exposure incidents in these facilities.
  • Improved Patient Care: In situations where patients are exposed to hazardous materials, trained medical personnel are better equipped to provide appropriate care and decontamination.
  • Professional Development: HAZWOPER training contributes to the professional growth of workers, expanding their skills and enhancing their value to their employer.
  • Confidence in Crisis Situations: Being trained prepares workers to act confidently and decisively in crisis situations involving hazardous materials.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The training often involves learning how to work collaboratively with different departments and emergency response teams, fostering teamwork and communication skills.

Overall, HAZWOPER training is an integral part of ensuring a safe and prepared in thi kind of environment, where the risks associated with hazardous materials are effectively managed.


HAZWOPER training is integral for healthcare professionals, equipping them with essential skills and knowledge to safely handle hazardous materials and respond to emergencies. Tailored to the unique challenges of this type of environment, this training not only ensures compliance with regulatory standards but also enhances the safety and well-being of both workers and patients.

By staying informed and regularly updated through HAZWOPER training, They medical personnel can maintain a high standard of care and readiness in the face of potentially hazardous situations. The investment in this specialized training underscores a commitment to safety, excellence in patient care, and the overall resilience of healthcare services.


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