Transitioning a healthcare facility from a presumably chemical-laden, waste-generating environment to a finely tuned green operation can seem overwhelming, especially when cost and reimbursement concerns, and patient safety and satisfaction, continually rank higher on the priority list. Knowing these are the realities of today, The Source asked executives at two of HealthTrust’s member organizations to offer their insights related to sustainability in healthcare. Our interviewees are Bob Beyer, vice president of supply chain services at Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), based in Springfield, Illinois, and Robert Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, based in Edison, New Jersey.
Why is healthcare sustainability a priority for your facility/health system?
Beyer: As a faith-based organization rooted in the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, our commitment to healthcare sustainability and reverence for the earth are a part of our core values and belief system.
Garrett: Sustainability is directly in line with the fundamental mission of Hackensack Meridian Health to maintain and improve health, whether through innovations in care or by reducing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Our hospitals are energy- and resource-intensive by the nature of their operations. We do not want to contribute to environmental problems, but to utilize resources efficiently, reduce waste and reinvest the savings into providing high-quality patient care—creating a healthier environment for patients and team members.
Describe sustainability initiatives you are particularly passionate about and why.
Beyer: Although all of our sustainability initiatives are important to HSHS, we’re particularly passionate about waste streams management and charity donations of capital equipment. Our sister organization, Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, focuses on waste streams management by distributing unwanted supplies and equipment to healthcare organizations and missions in the developing world.
Garrett: The safer chemicals initiative, which has been the foundation of our sustainability program for years, continues to be a major source of pride for the entire network. Hackensack University Medical Center is home to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center, whose mission is to identify, control and ultimately prevent toxic exposures in the environment that can threaten our children’s health. The improvements here have included the switch to purchasing green cleaning products and furniture that is not treated with toxic, flame-retardant chemicals. We have also partnered with our utility provider to install energy-efficient lighting and chillers as well as LED lighting in parking garages.
How did your green team obtain your buy-in or that of other executives, colleagues and physicians?
Beyer: In addition to being a major component of our organization’s core values, it is simply the right thing to do. Our leadership and colleagues know they are making a difference for our health system and communities by supporting these efforts.
Garrett: By illustrating that each initiative was in line with our strategic priorities to provide the optimal patient experience and the best outcomes, and to ensure our teams are working in a healthy, pleasant environment. Additionally, these efforts result in cost savings through more efficient practices, which is an essential part of our mission.
Going Green at Boston Medical CenterEarlier this year, Boston Medical Center (BMC) was recognized for the first time as a Top 25 hospital for its environmental stewardship initiatives by Practice Greenhealth. At BMC, going green equates to “being good stewards to the environment, our people and our resources,” says Robert Biggio, senior vice president of facilities and support services. “It is a holistic approach to our work and how we operate, and is incorporated into the fabric of our culture.”
Green initiatives have had implications in three key areas at BMC:
Energy conservation. BMC seeks to maximize its efficiency efforts around energy consumption. It has partnered with a North Carolina solar energy farm to reach a goal of being carbon neutral by 2020. Most recently, BMC installed a natural gas-fired, 2 megawatt cogeneration (combined heat and power) plant to save $1.5 million annually on energy costs.
Food sourcing. The beef BMC serves is local and grass-fed. Seafood comes from a partnership with the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and is delivered fresh daily. Produce hails from local New England farms and BMC’s 7,000-square-foot rooftop garden.
Integrated waste program. Each month, a biodigester diverts 4 tons of food waste and 40 solar-powered trash receptacles divert 1 ton of single-stream waste.
For a healthcare organization starting its sustainability journey, how do you recommend finding executives and colleagues to champion the cause?
Beyer: Find someone in the organization, from leadership or in the trenches, who is passionate about sustainability and willing to be a servant leader to introduce and then support the program on an ongoing basis.
Garrett: It starts with the CEO showing team members they will be supported in their endeavors.
How do you make your surrounding community aware of the sustainable characteristics, initiatives and results within your operations and/or facilities?
Beyer: Whenever possible, we get the community involved through our PR and communications. For example, one of our hospitals has a Christmas tree recycling event every year that provides an opportunity to showcase all of our other sustainability efforts.
Garrett: We routinely share the good news of Hackensack University Medical Center’s recognition as one of the greenest hospitals in America with patients and the community. We want them to know we are committed to providing a healing environment that’s as free of chemicals as possible, and continuously improving our programs to reduce waste and provide healthy food options. We also let it be known that Hackensack’s John Theurer Cancer Center supports cooking with antibiotic-free meat. In 2016, the hospital announced that 85 percent of total meat served is antibiotic-free, and today we are close to our goal of 100 percent. The hospital also installed rooftop beehives to raise awareness about the importance of honeybees to the local food supply.
What impact do your sustainability initiatives have on your organization’s mission, legacy and/or accountability to the communities you serve?
Beyer: HSHS is committed to being good stewards of limited natural resources. Sustainability is part of our commitment to the community, and our legacy and mission.
Garrett: A healthy community begins with a healthy environment, and that’s what the network of Hackensack Meridian Health is creating. Hospitals of the future will treat the sickest of the sick patients, but we want people to think “health” when they think of us.
From your perspective, what’s next in your organization’s environmental journey going forward?
Beyer: Getting better and more efficient at educating all of our colleagues, visitors and patients about sustainability. It’s something we want engrained in the culture and maintained as an expectation.
Garrett: We’ll continue to incorporate best practices from each hospital within our system. Although the work done at Hackensack is being modeled systemwide, all of our sustainability programs have unique features that we want to keep intact. Our goal is for our overall health system to be known as a national leader in healthcare sustainability.
How can HealthTrust best partner with you in EPP (Environmentally Preferable Purchasing) and sustainable efforts in the future?
Beyer: By ensuring that we are holding suppliers to terms and conditions regarding sustainability and environmental stewardship, such as assistance with green disposal of packaging and chemical waste.
Garrett: HealthTrust can leverage its purchasing power so that suppliers are more forthcoming about the raw materials in their products and the manufacturing process, and willing to eliminate any cost gaps when members switch to more sustainable products. It also has an important educational role to play with members. For our communities to get healthier, we need healthcare facilities around the country to incorporate sustainability into every aspect of their operations.
What does the recognition of your organization’s efforts by Practice Greenhealth and related entities mean to leadership, staff and the surrounding community?
Beyer: This year’s recognition by Practice Greenhealth as a System for Change, and with individual awards going to 12 HSHS facilities, provides affirmation of our hard work that is frequently cited by our community and board leaders. It sets us apart from competitors in the communities we serve.
Garrett: Hackensack University Medical Center was recently named one of the top 25 most sustainable hospitals in the country for the fourth time, which is a great honor. It acknowledges the efforts of that team, and highlights its leadership role in our endeavors as a network to create a healthier environment for team members, patients and the communities we serve.
In 2016, Hackensack was the only New Jersey medical center named to the “50 of the Greenest Hospitals in America” list of Becker’s Hospital Review and, earlier this year, it received the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s 2017 Award for Excellence in the environmental quality category.