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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Green Hospitals

by Heather Rothbauer-Wanish

As much of the country strives for a more environmentally-friendly home and workplace, hospitals have also joined in the movement. The place that you go when you are ill has been making strides towards ensuring that it is a place that not only promotes your health, but promotes the health of the environment. Whether it is cleaning solutions, cafeteria plates, or ordering processes, local hospitals are encouraging their staff and employees to think twice about being a friend to the environment.

One local facility, Sacred Heart Hospital (SHH), has been working diligently to ensure it promotes green practices. Rick Beckler, Director of Hospitality Services, has seen many changes during his 15 years in the position. “Our practices really do differ than they did several years ago,” Beckler said. One way that SHH does this is by benchmarking practices with other healthcare organizations. Part of Beckler’s job is keeping up with environmental trends through publications, conferences, and relationships with other healthcare groups.

“We feel we are on the cutting-edge of these practices,” Beckler explained. Organizational purchasing is one area where Beckler feels the hospital can make a real difference. He and his staff strongly encourage the purchase of goods that can be utilized more than once. “We look at everything and invest in items that can be used more than once,” he said. “It really has become second nature for us,” he continued. This method of purchasing includes everything from reusable needle containers to recyclable containers for carry-out cafeteria food.

If you do purchase food at the Sacred Heart Hospital cafeteria, chances are you will be purchasing locally-grown food. “We really try to purchase as much local food as possible,” Beckler explained. This not only supports local farmers and growers, but it keeps the money circulating in the local economy. When it comes to the cafeteria and the kitchen area, the green movement does not stop there. The Sacred Heart staff has worked with the Department of Natural Resources to ensure that leftover food does not go to waste. For example, watermelon rhines, strawberry tops and other food scraps are saved until a local farmer picks them up; the scraps are used to supplement feeding the farm animals.

With the amount of food that is prepared during a day, there are bound to be leftovers. The prepared food that is left is sent to the local St. Francis Food Pantry, whom the hospital has worked with for many years. Local volunteers come to the hospital and box the food each day before it is sent to the food pantry. Because the food is already done and prepared, the staff felt that it was a great idea to provide it to local families.

Hospital patients are now given reusable mugs in lieu of Styrofoam cups. Other changes include no use of plastic silverware or so-called throwaway containers. Fountain drinks are also now served throughout the hospital, instead of plastic bottles. There is no longer any bottled water offered; rather, there are pitchers of water and cups available throughout the facility. “The staff, employees, and patients are on-board with the changes,” Beckler said. He admits that its focus on green and sustainability can sometimes add costs, but he feels the environmental impact is worth the additional costs.

Another local facility, Luther Midelfort, has also implemented practices to improve its environmental impact. This is especially important to the hospital as it is in the midst of a large expansion. Gordon Howie, Director of Maintenance–Facilities Services for Luther Midelfort, explained that the hospital looks at this in two ways: new construction and existing buildings. “With new construction, LEED principles are followed and efficiency is built in from design development. Luther Midelfort works with engineers, architects, and contractors who are experienced with environmentally efficient designs and methods,” Howie said. In fact, more than 90 percent of the waste materials from the construction have been recycled.

The existing buildings are also reviewed to seek any changes that may benefit the environment. “With the existing buildings, we are continually evaluating processes and building functions to reduce energy and water consumption. We have established a team that meets monthly to review ideas, track progress, and report results. We continually challenge ourselves to do better,” Howie explained.

When asked if they feel marketplace pressure to go green, both Sacred Heart Hospital and Luther Midelfort indicated that they are challenged only by themselves. Part of the mission of SHH is to give reverance to the earth and Beckler feels they are doing that with their environmental initiatives. “We do feel a pressure, a good pressure, from the healthcare industry to go green,” Beckler explained. “The healthcare industry as a whole has done a great job of looking at our environmental impact,” he continued. Howie echoed that sentiment, saying the following, “We keep an eye on what other healthcare systems are doing, but we are our strongest critics.”

At Luther Midelfort, employees also take an active role in seeking green practices. “We have employees who truly believe in bettering the environment,” Howie said. “If our employees see something that needs attention, we hear about it and it’s fantastic,” he continued. Luther Midelfort patients are also encouraged to provide feedback on the hospital’s green initiatives. “We would not consider an environmental project a success if our patients are not happy,” Howie commented. One way Luther Midelfort is able to make an impact on the surrounding community is through its own food donations to St. Francis Food Pantry; Luther Midelfort gives its unsold but usable food items to the pantry. This is similar to the working relationship Sacred Heart Hospital also has with the pantry.

Both local hospitals recycle everything from glass to aluminum, including some more unique items. Sacred Heart Hospital has contracted with an individual who takes wooden pallets from the facility. These wooden pallets are then turned into landscape wood chips. This is just another way that certain products and assets are seeing a second life.

Many hospitals are also using more energy-friendly lightbulbs, as well as implementing energy-savings tactics. “We work closely with Focus on Energy and Xcel Energy to ensure best efficiencies for the cost,” Howie explained. SHH has implemented automatic turn-off lights and high-efficiency airdrives in an effort to cut energy cost and consumption.

For many hospitals, investing in energy efficiencies, recycling capabilities, and reusable materials means a higher initial investment. However, this investment can save and reduce operating expenses in the future. If you, or someone you know is a hospital patient, take a look around and note the changes that have been made in the building and its processes. As these businesses look to a more environmentally-friendly operation, know that they are still trying to do what is best for the community, the patients, and the environment.

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