Leadership engagement and the integration of sustainability initiatives into day-to-day operations is something to celebrate. Healthcare sustainability changemakers serve as models of environmental leadership, sharing their vision for a healthier future and offering ideas on how to follow up ideas with action. Just one of those people is Leslie Davis, president of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, who offers her thoughts on the subject.

 

Sustainability is intimately connected to supporting healthy families and healthy communities. Green hospitals reduce carbon emissions, waste, and air pollution. They reduce air contaminants that may contribute to asthma and hospital-acquired infections. Patients exposed to green spaces heal faster and go home more quickly. Studies have shown an increase in employee morale, and a decrease in nursing errors for staff working in green hospitals.

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is committed to providing superior healthcare to the families of western Pennsylvania and is a leader in advancing environmentally sustainable practices in healthcare, linking all aspects of our mission to greening initiatives and environmental health, safety, and stewardship.

As we celebrate our 100-year anniversary, we are reminded that respect for the healing aspects of the environment have long been a tradition at Magee.
Leadership walks

Magee-Womens hospital has an active “Green Team” with representation from most hospital departments. Our coordinator of environmental initiatives oversees the team and supports all of the environmental health initiatives at Magee. Three of our major accomplishments are:

The production of a film “Baby Steps to Green Parenting." This film is a resource for healthcare providers who counsel childbearing families about environmental health issues. It also is available on our website and is shown on our antenatal and postpartum units three times daily. It gives families evidence-based information on chemicals in our environment that have been linked to adverse health effects and advises simple lifestyle changes to help families avoid exposures.

Our educators have distributed the film to healthcare professionals who practice both in the UPMC system and in the community. We have educated professionals who work in underserved and minority communities. And we have presented the film at national conferences (AWHONN, CleanMed, and Lamaze/ICEA.) Knowledge is power and assists families in making healthier choices. This information has the potential to reduce diseases linked to chemical exposures, such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, and developmental delays. The potential savings in terms of human health and healthcare dollars is tremendous.

The establishment of organic and healing gardens in three indoor courtyards at Magee. Two of the gardens furnish organic vegetables and herbs, which are utilized by our dietary staff in healthy meals for both staff and patients. The third garden is a sensory garden, which provides a relaxing space for staff, patients, and visitors. We recently offered tours to dietary staff of other UPMC facilities who are interested in following our lead.

The use of pesticides is linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and developmental delays. We advise our families to avoid pesticide use. It was a logical step to model that behavior. The gardens also serve as venues for both staff and patient education. Nursing students from Carlow College volunteer to help with harvest and garden maintenance.

The environmental impact of the garden can be seen in the biodiversity present there. Honeybees, birds, and a variety of pests and predators have been observed.

The gardens are visible from patient rooms, most notably the women’s cancer unit and the Woman Care Birth Center. Many patients and their families have remarked on the benefits of the gardens, including stress reduction and a general sense of well-being. It is hard to document the cost savings of the gardens. However, numerous studies show that access to outdoor spaces reduces both length of hospital stay and the amount of pain medication required.

A 50% reduction of regulated medical waste (RMW) over the past year. This was accomplished through audits, the realignment of waste containers, and staff education. This reduction not only benefits the environment but creates a significant cost savings. RMW is irradiated at a local facility and then transported and placed in landfill. Reducing this waste then reduces concurrent costs, both monetary and environmental.

Fewer trips to the disposal site translate to fewer fuel emissions and fewer greenhouse gases released into the environment. As waste decays in landfills, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. So the goal of a sustainable health system should include the reduction of all waste.

At Magee about 20% of our waste stream is recycled materials. This includes medical equipment donations to our community partner, Global Links. Staff at Magee are continually looking at ways to increase recycling compliance.

 

Vision for the future 

We are presently involved in a construction project, which will add needed space to our existing hospital. We are following green building principles and will be seeking LEED certification. All aspects of the building are being reviewed for sustainability. This includes building materials, furniture, waste management, daylighting, and education.

We will continue our commitment to linking the clinical aspects of our practice to environmental health principles. We consider this one of the core strengths of our initiatives. We will expand on already existing education for staff, patients, and community. In April 2012, we will be presenting the fourth annual symposium for environmentally literate healthcare providers.

The focus of our 2012 Environmental Health Seminar will be educating providers, staff, and patients on the importance of critically evaluating what they eat. Obesity is a national epidemic with a host of causative factors. In addition, many clinical illnesses are markedly impacted by what we eat. Unfortunately, few healthcare providers have been trained to provide “down-to-earth” patient education and support. We will use our 2012 program to kick off an educational program to teach providers how to teach their patients to eat healthy and be environmentally responsible.

Another major goal is the greening of the OR. This initiative is led by Dr. Noe Copley-Woods and will look at all aspects of the OR in regards to waste reduction. In collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering, Woods will be conducting life-cycle analysis.

As always, our goals include continuing our leadership role inside the UPMC system and beyond. We stand as a model of green practices and are committed to sharing those practices with other healthcare facilities and helping them to engage in their own “green journey.” We plan to accomplish this through workshops and private consultation.

In the future, the healthcare industry and, in particular, healthcare systems such as UPMC will become increasingly responsible for the overall health of our community. So much of that health is related to the environment in which our patients live. As the future fiduciaries of our community’s health, Magee and UPMC are well-positioned to be able and willing to participate in community education and advocacy for health. Our current work with our perinatal patients, our neonatal patients, our operating rooms, and our hospital’s physical plant is helping us prepare and build our environmental health program for the future.” HCD

 

Has your facility or organizational leadership integrated environmental stewardship into its operation and strategic plan? Email Janet Brown at jbrown@practicegreenhealth.org