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How Green Was My Hospital

Gary Baldwin, Technology Editor, May 8, 2007

When leaving the condo last night for a hike in Chicago's "Loop," I noticed a large box in the trash collections area. It contained someone's old CPU and monitor. The monitor was one of those clunky "big box" CRTs that used to be state-of-the-art. Destination for this hardware: landfill. Scenes like this occur nationwide. In Chicago and elsewhere, there's no highly visible computer recycling program, even though computers contain reusable materials and may have components that pose environmental hazards.

Hospitals already must contend with hazardous medical waste removal as a routine part of business, so they are no strangers to environmental issues. However, like other businesses, they are beginning to realize that environmental stewardship is a wide-reaching, often complicated goal.

In researching an article that is slated to appear in HealthLeaders magazine this August, I interviewed sources at several hospitals that are environmental leaders. Not only are they attempting to eliminate improper electronics disposal, they are tackling any number of other environmentally harmful business practices.

Applying the latest jargon, you could call them "green hospitals." A growing number of hospitals, such as Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, IA, and Affinity Health in Appleton, WI, have recognized that environmental stewardship is a good fit with their mission as a healthcare provider. Turning hospitals into more Earth-friendly organizations is an effort that is wrapped in technology.

The effort spans recycling of computers, eliminating mercury from medical devices and building infrastructure, using environmentally friendly building supplies, and reducing energy costs through advanced HVAC systems. Applying these principles, Affinity Health recently opened a LEED-certified clinic, a designation offered by U.S. Green Building Council. It stands for "leadership in energy and environmental design."

In this issue of HealthLeaders IT, we are kicking off an occasional series on "green" issues facing hospitals and how technology can be part of the solution (as well as part of the problem). These efforts are being promoted by a group called Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, or H2E.

A contributed article, co-authored by Sarah O'Brien of H2E, analyzes the issues facing hospitals. And in a related podcast, Kent Miller, director of environmental services at Mercy Medical Center, discusses how his facility earned recognition from H2E, in part by getting medical waste under control.

In the interview, Miller reveals the surprise origin of what has turned into 200-plus pounds per month of recyclable material. Like many of the sources I have interviewed, Miller approaches his job with a high degree of pragmatism.

"I am not an environmentalist," he told me. "But I am environmentally concerned. I am not a 'tree hugger,' but I understand what waste does to the environment."

I hope you will find these and other related articles in the weeks ahead useful. And I would be delighted to hear about your own hospital's efforts to become better environmental guardians. There are millions of computers and medical devices facing obsolescence, but there is only one Earth.


Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at gbaldwin@healthleadersmedia.com.

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