How healthy is your hospital? When considering your answer, tally up latex gloves, sterilizing cleansers, disposable instruments, and gowns as pluses. However, these items and hundreds more can count against your facility—when you consider the effect your hospital has on its immediate (and not so immediate) environment.
Hospitals are tremendous producers of toxins, including mercury and excess pharmaceuticals, as well as solid and hazardous wastes.
“In healthcare, the footprint we’re leaving behind directly impacts our health,” points out Mary Daubach-Larsen, director of material operations and chairman of the Green LEEDers Task Force at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Many hospitals are taking steps to reduce that footprint.
It’s Easy Being Green
Hospitals that want to make a commitment to become more environmentally friendly can hire a full-time expert to guide their efforts, and/or they can appoint a task force—often called a green team. Lutheran General has had great success with the green team model.
A 617-bed teaching, research, and tertiary care hospital and Level 1 trauma center, Lutheran General is one of the largest hospitals in the Chicago area. Under the leadership of Daubach-Larsen, the hospital’s Green LEEDers Task Force has made great strides in several areas, earning Lutheran General a national 2006 Partners in Change award from Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E).
“We’ve been recycling for more than five years,” says Daubach-Larsen. “We’ve stepped up and widened our efforts to include recycling glass, plastic, and aluminum, and we’re also reducing mercury in our environment. We’re close to being mercury free—that’s a goal of all [U.S.] hospitals.”
Lutheran General is now focusing on reducing toxins, examining their cleansers and their disposal of pharmaceuticals.
Like most hospitals that make an environmental commitment, Lutheran General began its efforts with guidance from H2E (www.h2e-online.org), a nonprofit group founded by the American Hospital Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Care Without Harm, and the American Nurses Association.
“H2E’s mission is to green the entire healthcare sector,” says Laura Brannen, executive director of H2E. “We focus on reducing waste, toxic chemicals, and mercury.” Hospitals can join H2E for free, and nearly 25% of all U.S. hospitals currently belong to H2E.
About the Green Team
An effective hospital green team should include members from multiple departments, to ensure that new environmentally friendly practices, such as using recycling bins for specific waste materials or purchasing “green” cleansers, are taught to all applicable staff and followed by all necessary departments.
“A traditional green team brings together people from a variety of backgrounds,” says Brannen. “It’s best to have a balance between people who need to be [on the team] and those who are motivated to be there because they care.”
In addition to Daubach-Larsen, Lutheran General’s task force includes four nurses, a physician, a psychologist, and representatives from food/nutrition, infection control, pharmacy, public relations, physician relations, and guests from facilities.
Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), which made a commitment to environmentally friendly practices in 1996, has an environmental action committee at each of its 40 hospitals.
“Each of these committees is responsible for establishing goals, monitoring progress, overseeing implementation, and training staff at their hospital,” explains Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, ecology program coordinator, CHW, Santa Cruz, Calif. “They also look for groups in their community that they should be partnering with.”
In addition to this overall team, Brannen recommends two other groups for a successful approach: recycling coordinators and an executive group. “Recycling coordinators are department liaisons for the staff in that area,” she explains. “They’re responsible for number and placement of recycling bins, labeling, and staff training in their area. This brings implementation down directly where it’s happening. You can have a coordinator for every shift.”