Just Read: Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet

Gerwig K. Greening Health Care. New York City: Oxford University Press; 2014 (amazon.com | Oxford University Press) – All proceeds from the sale of Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet will go to Health Care Without Harm

The US health care industry as a whole spends in excess of $200 billion a year on supplies..it’s equivalent to the annual spending power of the 70 million americans born into the millennial generation, or GenY

There’s a short list of things I didn’t learn about until I came Kaiser Permanente which is a compliment to both health care and Kaiser Permanente. 

One of those things is the importance of a healing health system for people and the planet. I’ve written about environmental stewardship more than a few times on this blog (tag: GreenHC – for “Green Health Care” – get it?). The Greening Health Care book puts it all together in one place.

It may seem obvious that a/the health system should be using that purchasing power to buy products and services that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. However, it had to be worked at/toward.

the $135 billion annual spending now going through the EPP (environmentally preferable purchasing) standardized questions to GPOs and suppliers represents about 80 percent of all the medical products bought in this country.

And by the way $13 billion a year in medical and nonmedical products is purchased by Kaiser Permanente each year.

This is the story of our vice president of Employee Safety, Health and Wellness, and Environmental Stewardship Officer, Kathy Gerwig (@KathyGerwig), Kaiser Permanente, and a movement involving lots of health systems and organizations, including Health Care Without Harm (@HCWithoutHarm),  to have our health system not create patients at the same time it is trying to heal them. 

I’ve known Kathy and the team she supports through her leadership since 2009 and have really seen the promise of paying attention to the way a health system thinks of health in the way it operates. At the same time, as I said above, I didn’t get taught about this part of health in medical school (or public health school). The policies, organizations, and people are as myriad as in any part of clinical medicine and there’s no primer for a doctor, clinician, health system worker/leader/enthusiast, until now. That’s what’s in here.

The stats for things like waste and food are as dramatic as they are for supplies:

health care, together with other large institutions, including school districts, universities, and government agencies, account for about 40 percent of all food purchased in the United States

The US health care sector is second only to the food industry in contributing to waste production.

Within these areas there are voluntary choices that can be made to make these activities healthier/less harmful. 

The Story of Stuff, Where does your e-waste go

I tend to like this (one of many) example because I meet so many people who don’t know where their electronic waste goes – the PC’s, the tablets, the servers, etc. You can find out by watching this video. At Kaiser Permanente, though, all electronic devices are recycled and none are exported, due to a partnership with Arrow Value Recovery.

In 2010, for instance, Kaiser recycled more than 122,000 pieces of electronic equipment, totaling 748 tons, while avoiding approximately $2.4 million in disposal costs.

Part of a sustainable revolution: Our trip to NPR

I had the pleasure of going with Kathy and colleagues Erin Meade (@erinm81) and Sue Saito (@suekiesaito) to NPR Headquarters in Washington, DC, yesterday.

As I mentioned on a previous trip, the NPR building sits on the border of a census tract, which is on the border of health-challenged DC and thriving DC (see: Photo and Map Friday: The Social Determinants of the NoMa Neighborhood, Washington, DC USA | Ted Eytan, MD). Within this building, NPR is working to provide for a healthy and safe work environment to its employees and its community. Our accountability in health care is to make their job as an employer and as a member of the community easier, by leading and supporting everything they’re doing through our example. I think we can, it’s what they expect of us. 

Ted Eytan, MD