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What Does Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare Mean for Future Generations?

April 22, 2022
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Do you ever stop and think that climate change and healthcare could go hand-in-hand? It’s true; the climate around us affects our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, climate change can influence human health and disease in numerous ways. Disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems cause increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and impacts on mental health.

Hospitals, in turn, can do much to decrease their own carbon footprint through waste reduction and environmentally friendly practices. Here’s how Baystate Health’s Sustainability Council hopes to help.

How Will Baystate Health’s Sustainability Council Impact Climate Change and Health?

The council’s mission is to help the health system evolve into one that is more environmentally sustainable and improve, maintain and restore health while minimizing negative impacts on the environment and leveraging opportunities to improve it. Our hope is to benefit the health and well-being of current and future generations.

Why is it important for Baystate Health to have sustainable/environmentally conscious hospitals?

Ianna Hondros-McCarthy, DO, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow, currently leads the council with Todd Bailey, manager of Purchasing & Contracting for Baystate Health’s supply chain.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted by U.S. healthcare facilities are the highest per capita in the world and are responsible for 8.5% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions overall. In comparison, globally, the health care sector emits 4.4%,” says Ianna. “This alone is staggering.”

“We know that climate change has massive short-term and long-term effects on health, from air pollution causing respiratory illnesses to catastrophic weather events causing long-lasting mental illnesses (PTSD, depression, anxiety), let alone the massive economic implications of catastrophic weather events making it harder for hospitals to stay afloat and provide care,” says Todd. “The fact that healthcare systems contribute at all to the problem, when they are created to prevent and treat illness, is ironic. It must then be part of our responsibility to curb any negative health effects we might cause as a healthcare system.”

Sustainability Council Aims for Adaptability

Baystate Health’s mission statement is to improve the health of the people in our communities every day, with quality and compassion.

“As climate change exacerbates health risks in our patients, the need becomes greater for us to mitigate those climate change risk factors (air and water pollution, carbon emissions, etc.) within our facilities and our community,” says Ianna. “Only through modeling the behaviors we prescribe for our patients and employees, can we truly consider ourselves stewards of health.”

The Sustainability Council will work towards specific goals:

  • Increasing community education while partnering with clinicians on the council
  • Increasing use of alternative fuel vehicles system-wide
  • Partnering with researchers on air quality in the region and health outcomes study
  • Continuing to work with local and national organizations to identify future opportunities

Environmental Sustainability at Baystate Health: What We’ve Accomplished So Far

Since 2014, the Sustainability Council has made many notable contributions around the health system. This includes:

  • Installing energy efficient building systems, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning and a Cogeneration (combined heat and power) System & Utilities Management Plant
  • Selecting green materials for projects
  • Installing LED lights throughout Baystate Health facilities
  • Installing interior skylights
  • Reducing heating/cooling costs with new roofing
  • Installing a rainwater collection system which irrigates landscaping
  • Implementing robust recycling programs
  • Creating a fleet management program for Baystate Health vehicles, including the addition of 15 hybrid SUV vehicles in 2021
  • Reducing waste in our operating room surgical kits
  • Increasing sustainable food purchases
  • Installing electric vehicle chargers at Baystate Medical Center and 3601 Main Street in Springfield

What Else are We Doing to Become a Sustainable Business?

Memberships

Baystate Health is a member of the Healthcare Anchor Network (HAN), which focuses on sustainable purchasing along with supplier diversity and community wealth-building.

Partnerships

Since 2019, Baystate Health has partnered with Practice Greenhealth, a leading networking organization for sustainable health care in the U.S., to collect data on our consumables and waste streams.

“We have received recognition from Practice Greenhealth not only for our efforts in data collection, but for our outcomes and data which has shown we’ve done a great job at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste, increasing recycling, and creating more efficient use of our energy sources,” says Todd.

Baystate Health is also partnered with HealthCare Without Harm, Green Energy Consumer Alliance, Eversource, ChargePoint, HAN, and Partners for World Health.

In addition, Baystate Health joined 11 other health systems nationwide in spring 2021 to sign an “Impact Purchasing Commitment” (IPC). Including sustainability efforts, this commitment was designed by HAN, in partnership with Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, to increase spending with Minority and Women-Owned Businesses (MWBE) by $1 billion to improve supplier diversity and build community wealth, with a specific focus on Baystate’s service areas.

“We are extending our efforts in partnering with environmentally-conscious businesses and services who use sustainable products,” notes Todd.

Awards

Baystate Health was a recipient of the Practice Greenhealth Partner for Change Award in 2019 and Environmental Excellence in 2020.

“Baystate Health does phenomenal work and we’re recognized nationally for it – through our clinical outcomes, dedicated programs and team members. With the Sustainability Council, we believe Baystate Health has a solid base, with some substantial accomplishments to date and many challenging opportunities ahead. We want to be known for being a steward of the environment, to continually strive to reduce our carbon footprint, especially within our local community,” adds Todd.

How can you help?

April 22 is Earth Day – which is a great time to educate yourself about the benefits of sustainability, especially in larger organizations such as Baystate Health.

Todd and Ianna encourage team members at Baystate Health and patients across western Massachusetts to take their own initiative and be more conscious on their environmental impact and work with their teams, families and friends on sustainability efforts.

It takes just one small change to help make a difference in the environment around us. Join Baystate Health and help lessen our environmental impact this Earth Day.

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