by Diana Bradley
, Staff Writer | September 26, 2012
From the September 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
With so many potential benefits, from cost savings to improved patient care and employee health, it’s a wonder that more health care facilities aren’t jumping onto the environmentally conscious bandwagon. But, there’s a good reason for that - from an institutional perspective, it turns out greening a hospital isn’t easy.
“Green health” is just one of umpteen buzzwords out there, confusing health care facilities and leading them to question whether all the hubbub is warranted.
“[Going green] is really tricky,” says Barbara Hamilton, sustainability manager for San Diego’s Palomar Health system.
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Although complex, Hamilton believes it’s worth the trouble. “At Palomar Health, we believe there is a direct correlation between human health and environmental sustainability. So we look for and work to explain these connections.”
As with any other revolution, there are those who lead, those who follow and those who are dragged kicking and screaming in a new direction. But the green health “choir is getting louder,” notes Kai Abelkis, environmental coordinator for Boulder Community Hospital in Boulder, Colo.
“The more enlightened and forward thinking a hospital is, and the more they get the connection between human health and the environment, the more likely they will see it is a moral obligation for health care providers to do this,” he says.
Going green doesn’t have to be complicated. Industry experts advised DOTmed News on why hospitals should implement these changes, and how the task can be efficiently accomplished.
Pinpoint a champion
The big picture can be overwhelming, but it’s all about baby steps, says Dr. Linda McCauley, dean and professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
“A lot of health systems will tell you it’s too expensive to retrofit old facilities to be more environmentally friendly, but there is a huge number of small scale things they can do,” she explains. “So they may not be able to change their lighting, but what’s to stop them from changing where they buy their food or switching out all of their trash containers for recyclable containers? Do it gradually, one floor at a time, one unit at a time, one hospital at a time. You don’t have to turn on the switch and make everything green tomorrow. Realistically, you just need a plan for moving forward.”
Before this can be accomplished, however, hospitals need to identify the environmental steward in their leadership team. For example, if a hospital doesn’t have someone in the supply chain that is aware of the benefits of biodegradable products or items that can be reprocessed, they just won’t order them.