Rob Stott is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
For all of the good that they do, hospitals have been historically not so good when it comes to cleaning up after themselves—and those bad habits can have deadly effects. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative aims to change that.
Going green can bring big cost savings and community goodwill to organizations. But in the healthcare industry, adopting more sustainable practices can affect far more than the bottom line and public perceptions—it could mean lives saved.
A 2011 World Health Organization fact sheet reported that, in 2000, improper disposal of medical waste resulted in the use of contaminated syringes that caused 21 million new hepatitis B virus infections, 2 million new hepatitis C infections, and at least 260,000 new HIV infections.
To improve those numbers and get hospitals thinking about environmental health and sustainability, the nonprofit Practice Greenhealth teamed up with 12 of the largest health systems in the U.S. to launch the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) in 2012. The initiative, winner of a Gold Award in ASAE's 2013 Power of A competition, tracks data across six areas of operation—engaged leadership, food, energy, waste, chemicals used, and purchases made—to see where there's room for improvement.
Janet Howard, director of facility engagement at Practice Greenhealth and the director of content and outreach for HHI, implemented a similar strategy when she convinced a hospital in New York City to hire her to focus specifically on improving green practices. In her first year on the job tracking data on how the hospital was doing business, she helped her employer save more than $600,000.
"That caught some people's attention. I got my foot in the door through cost savings, and it's a theme that continues today," Howard says. "The notion of using data to drive change is what prompted the development of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, and it's led to real results. By getting hospitals to sign on and track data and share data and be transparent about that data, they've had huge success around reducing infection rates and reducing costs."
Participants get access to how-to guides, webinars, and content experts to help them shore up their operations. They then set goals for improving sustainability efforts and track their progress along the way.
"There's no chance for failure because the targets [are] highly achievable, and we help them every step of the way toward those goals," says Howard. "We really made it a turnkey approach for any hospital to have success."
HHI was launched as a three-year effort, but Howard believes the program will have lasting effects.
"We know too much about the impact and the connection between human health and the health of the environment in our hospitals to not get serious about this," she says. "As providers of care and with a mission to do no harm, hospitals need to take that leadership role within their communities to demonstrate that a commitment to the environment is important to them."
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Healthy Hospitals."]