Group aims to inspire nationwide move toward 'greener' health care

May 1, 2012

Catholic providers among initiative's sponsors


A collaboration of health care organizations has launched an initiative to help hospitals and health systems nationwide to operate in a more earth-friendly way. Three of the initiative's 11 sponsoring health systems are in the ministry: Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md.; Catholic Health Initiatives of Englewood, Colo.; and Dignity Health of San Francisco.

"We've been involved in environmental efforts for a long time," said CHI's Colleen Scanlon, "and this was a new opportunity to take it to the next stage and to collaborate on a national level with other health care systems to build health and well-being for our communities. We think this will accelerate the process of greening the health care sector," said Scanlon, who is CHI senior vice president of advocacy.

Scanlon added that operating in a sustainable way is "the core purpose of a health care organization, especially considering the fact that there is a growing acknowledgement of the link between environmental impact and chronic disease. Reducing this environmental impact is part of the overall mission of all faith-based hospitals — it is an integral component of a healing ministry."

Tracking progress
The Healthier Hospitals Initiative asks health care providers to join a three-year effort to reduce their impact on the environment while also improving patient care. The initiative focuses on six challenges: Engaging leaders in greening health care, serving healthier foods and drinks, reducing energy use, reducing waste, using safer chemicals and purchasing environmentally friendly products.

Each challenge includes specific goals for hospitals and health systems. Participating facilities get free access to guides and other resources based on the best practices of the 11 health systems sponsoring Healthier Hospitals as well as on the input of environmental groups Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm and the Center for Health Design. These organizations are helping to coordinate Healthier Hospitals.

Healthier Hospitals will track and measure the success each participating hospital logs in meeting each challenge.

Hospitals can sign up at no cost to join Healthier Hospitals at (click on "Enroll Now" at the top). As Catholic Health World went to press, eight additional systems or facilities had enlisted as participants.

Standardized work
The Healthier Hospitals group came together two years ago, but at that time had just six sponsors. Since its founding, the group has grown, and developed concrete goals along with guides for achieving those goals.

"At the beginning of the program, supporting organizations recognized that many hospitals were making 'greening' efforts, but these efforts varied significantly and were not reportable in any cohesive way," Gary Cohen explained. He is founder and president of Health Care Without Harm.

David McCombs is vice president of supply chain operations with Bon Secours. He said having the new standardized framework to work from is vital to health care providers, and particularly for newbies. "Catholic health care organizations (that) are just beginning or are in their early phases of ecological stewardship activities don't need to reinvent the wheel. They can see a guide of which measures, baseline and objectives to pursue.

"This has the potential to decrease any outside cost to the participating organization since additional consultants might not be needed to help draft out their measures," he noted.

Dignity Health's Sr. Susan Vickers, RSM, said standardization is helpful to systems with mature environmental efforts as well because they can benchmark their work to what others are doing, in an organized way. Sr. Vickers is Dignity Health vice president of community health. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative is open to hospitals at any step along the continuum of environmentally sound practices.

On the path
The ministry providers sponsoring Healthier Hospitals said they already have accomplished some of the specific goals set out under some of the challenges, but they too will need to beef up efforts to achieve other goals. For instance, Bon Secours has a healthy start on reducing waste and energy use and on leadership involvement; CHI has a leg up when it comes to smarter purchasing, recycling and energy efficiency; and Dignity Health has done much to reduce waste and save energy.

Bon Secours will make itself available to help others in Healthier Hospitals in areas in which it has expertise, said McCombs. Other sponsors have committed to do the same.

Cohen of Health Care Without Harm said this is in line with Healthier Hospitals' vision to create a support network of hospitals that are participating in the initiative, so they can share information. Cohen said this network will extend beyond U.S. providers, as Healthier Hospitals plans to connect with health care groups in other countries pursuing green agendas.

Bumps in the road
Bon Secours, CHI and Dignity Health experts said they and other providers likely will encounter hurdles as they expand their environmental efforts.

CHI's Scanlon said, "Like all large organizations, CHI has many competing demands and a long list of strategic priorities. The size and diversity of our ministry is both a challenge and one of our greatest gifts."

Dignity Health's Sr. Vickers added that it can be difficult to capture and maintain the attention of leaders, and it can be a challenge to compete for resources needed to boost green efforts — both in terms of money and personnel.

McCombs noted that vendors also will need to be on board, particularly when it comes to challenges related to purchasing and energy. Each vendor has its own way of doing business, and so it can be difficult to standardize ordering and reporting across a large system like Bon Secours, he said.

To meet such challenges, McCombs said, it is essential for systems to anchor environmentalism into their operations. Bon Secours has done this in part by establishing green teams at the system level and in each of its regions and making them accountable for the success of green efforts.

Building leverage
The 11 systems that sponsor Healthier Hospitals represent over 500 hospitals with more than $20 billion in purchasing power, according to Healthier Hospitals, and the initiative hopes to attract at least a total of 2,000 hospitals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In this way, said Cohen, Healthier Hospitals plans to gain economies of scale in the move to green U.S. health care. He said the approach is modeled after the way that the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's "100,000 Lives Campaign" had engaged large numbers of hospitals in achieving changes on a large scale. IHI is a supporter of Healthier Hospitals; Cohen said the organization is helping Healthier Hospitals "embed sustainable practices in day-to-day operations."

Scanlon said the aggregate purchasing power of hospitals promoting environmental responsibility will contribute to the momentum of green initiatives. Sr. Vickers said it will send a strong signal to vendors about the growing market for safer products and the competitive benefits of helping hospitals in their efforts to reduce their environmental footprint.

See below for a complete list of Healthier Hospitals' sponsors and for more details on some of the goals set forth for each challenge.

Health system sponsors of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative

  • Advocate Healthcare
  • Bon Secours Health System
  • Catholic Health Initiatives
  • Dignity Health
  • Hospital Corporation of America
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • Inova Health System
  • MedStar Health
  • Partners HealthCare
  • Tenet Healthcare
  • Vanguard Health Systems

Organizations helping to coordinate initiative

  • Practice Greenhealth
  • Health Care Without Harm
  • Center for Health Design

Supporting organizations

  • American Hospital Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Objectives for participating hospitals

For each of the six environmental goals set out in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative the program specifies baseline objectives, such as:

  • Challenge: Engage leadership
    Baseline objective: Sign and submit an executive commitment to healthier hospitals statement.
  • Challenge: Use healthier foods
    Baseline objective: Sign the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge or formally adopt a sustainable food policy.
  • Challenge: Reduce emissions
    Baseline objective: Track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through ENERGY STAR portfolio manager
  • Challenge: Reduce waste
    Baseline objective: Track disposal of solid waste, regulated medical waste, recycling and hazardous waste.
  • Challenge: Use safer chemicals
    Baseline objective: Virtually eliminate mercury
  • Challenge: Buy smarter
    Baseline objective: Pledge to support group purchasing organizations in their use of environmental criteria in purchasing decisions.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.