20 September 2010

Saving Green While Saving Lives

Christiana Care Health Systems Wilmington Facility
Hospitals are in the business of healing. So it should be no surprise that one leading medical institution has been leading the way on healing the planet.

Christiana Care Health Systems serves all of Delaware and seven counties bordering the state in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. Christiana has more than 1,100 licensed hospital beds in two hospitals and over 10,000 employees.

As one of the region's largest employers, they are committed to making their facilities clean and safe for staff and patients. A few years ago, a small group of staff formed a team to help green their operations.

Most probably thought of it as the right thing to do, but they soon realized it was not just about going green. There was green to be made through savings.

The team started with small goals: reduce waste and organize what they were already doing that was sustainable. They hired an industry savvy consultant who helped them target various waste streams and look for cost savings throughout their operations.

Hospitals throw out a lot of stuff. From bed pans to Styrofoam cups; from paper and cans to xylene and alcohol. There is also an enormous amount of "regulated medical waste," most of which must be disposed of in special red "Biohazard" bags.

The team conducted an audit of the waste stream, even tracking it from the facilities to the dump. They found savings and waste reduction opportunities at every turn.

Reductions in "red bag" waste were cut by 50 percent at a savings of over $210,000 a year; implementing an extensive recycling program -- even for chemicals -- led to additional savings after a modest one-time cost.

Next the facilities entered into power purchase agreements for 15 percent of the total output of the Locust Ridge II wind power facility in central Pennsylvania.

They even hosted two "medicine cabinet clean-out" events for the community in cooperation with the Delaware Nurses Association. This last effort safely retrieved old and expired medications that otherwise may have entered the groundwater system if disposed of improperly.

The biggest challenge?

"Commitment," said Robert Mulrooney, Christiana Care's Vice President of Facilities and Services, speaking at the Academy of Natural Sciences last week as part of its Profitable Pathways to Sustainability Program. "Commitment of time and people. We don't yet have one person solely devoted to this 100 percent. That would really drive it."

Rather, Christiana's effort relies on 50 environmental champions from throughout the staff.

They must be doing something right. Last year, Christiana Care received the EPA's Trailblazer Award for its environmental leadership.

Christiana's green team is not resting on its laurels. They have come up with even more ambitious goals moving forward, such as achieving a recycling rate greater than 25 percent, purchasing safer and more sustainable products, reducing water use by more than 20 million gallons per year.

"It is part of Christiana Care's mission to care for our planet as we do for our community," President and CEO Dr. Bob Laskowski has said.

Perhaps it is time to recognize that a healthier planet can lead to healthier patients.

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