MedStar joins forces with Healthier Hospitals'
Columbia nonprofit pledges to go greener
MedStar Health has been working for years to implement more environmentally sensitive ways to eliminate waste, recycle, improve nutrition and do more to generally green-up its health care system.
The Columbia nonprofit recently took a bolder step, joining a new national program that seeks to unite medical providers in this effort. Called the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, the effort was unveiled at this week's three-day CleanMed conference in Baltimore. The conference included sessions on topics such as making operating rooms and other areas more energy-efficient and introducing more healthful hospital food.
"It's an opportunity to join with some other larger systems in an effort to try to move the whole industry to a better place, regarding energy conservation, waste minimization and chemical use," said Frank Weinberg, MedStar's corporate assistant vice president of facilities.
Hospitals are the second most energy-intensive buildings in the U.S., generating 6,600 tons of waste a day, according to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Making hospitals more environmentally friendly can also help on the disease front, with more studies linking pollution to respiratory and other illnesses, officials said.
The five other systems in the initiative Kaiser Permanente, Advocate Healthcare, Catholic Healthcare West, Hospital Corporation of America and Partners Healthcare are based outside of Maryland. Kaiser has a significant presence in the state. The group hopes to recruit other providers.
Disposing of waste especially hazardous waste is a key issue among medical providers. Counties around the nation have been pressuring medical waste incinerators to clean up toxic emissions at those sites.
MedStar decommissioned its last waste incinerator at Franklin Square Hospital Center in Baltimore in 2008, something that other systems nationwide are doing, Weinberg said. Last year, Franklin Square received a Practice Greenhealth Partner Recognition Award for efforts such as using cleaner waste technology and recycling.
"We now employ other ways to get rid of waste," Weinberg said. "We sterilize it onsite and shred it, for lack of a better term. It is processed so it becomes regular waste."
Two of MedStar's facilities still send waste to an off-site incinerator, but the plan is to phase that out when those contracts are up, he said. Each hospital or facility has a team to work on its environmental agenda, Weinberg said. Some pick different areas, such as purchasing, or recycling waste.
Providing more nutritious food for both patients and employees is also a big push at MedStar facilities, Weinberg said. Morrison Management Specialists, MedStar's food supplier, has signed Health Care Without Harm's healthful food in health care pledge, he said. Some facilities get fresh fruit and vegetables from farmers markets.
Purchasing is a big part of the equation, as this year the health care industry will spend about $110 billion on supplies, said John Messervy, director of capital and facility planning for Partners Healthcare of Boston, during a news conference.
"Collectively, the health care sector can stimulate the marketplace to make more eco-friendly products available," Messervy said. "These measures can greatly reduce the overall costs of health care, as well as help protect the health of our patients, staff and community."
The hospital group plans to launch an environmentally preferred purchasing website by the end of the year. It also plans to work to reduce chemical use and encourage green building standards.
"Practicing good environmental stewardship is one way of fulfilling our role as health care providers to the communities we serve," said Kathy Gerwig, vice president for workplace safety and environmental stewardship officer for Kaiser Permanente. "A sector-wide approach to sustainability will provide the benefits of better health not just in one community, but to the entire nation, by reducing the overall disease burden of the population and the enormous financial and human toll associated with it."
This month, Kaiser officials said they will require suppliers to provide environmental data for $1 billion worth of medical equipment and products used in its medical facilities. The health organization has worked with suppliers to just about eliminate products that contain mercury and is installing solar panels at 15 California facilities.
Also at the CleanMed conference, several Maryland hospitals and organizations were recognized by Practice Greenhealth, a national group, for their commitment to environmentally responsible operations. Those included Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States of Rockville and Montgomery General Hospital in Olney, owned by MedStar.