For medical center, 'green' effort pays

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To minimize its impact on the environment, Providence St. Mary Medical Center formed The Green Team in 2008, and the changes since that time have been extraordinary.

Stan Bagley, director of Environmental Services, and I as staff nurse, were asked to be co-chairs of the team. One of my undertakings has been to keep an updated list of all the "green" changes made by the various departments in the hospital as well as the projects and initiatives of The Green Team.

Looking back over this list, I am impressed with not only the volume of changes made, but the enormous resource conservation that these changes represent. For instance, several years ago, a digital control program for the air handling system was installed and variable speed fans were added, saving an estimated 3.7 million kWh annually. This, together with other system energy efficient upgrades, landed us an Energy Resource Stewardship award from Pacific Power. Recently, the Providence St. Mary Billing Center building achieved Energy Star status.

Lighting is an area of major improvement, with LEDs and fluorescents replacing incandescent, and an increased use of motion sensors on lights.

Our paper usage has been reduced immensely with our transitioning to all electronic medical records. Recycled cartridges are used in all of our printers. We are using more post-consumer recycled paper, and subscriptions of medical journals for the Doctor's Library are now online.

Fewer chemicals are being generated by our hospital, thanks to changes throughout the facility. Radiology has switched to digital imaging, reducing film and chemical processing waste. The new floor wax stripper uses water rather than chemicals, and the new flooring laid on the third floor is wax-free. The boiler water treatment is now chemical free. Another hallmark change is that the campus is now entirely tobacco-free.

The switch from liquid to dry chemicals for the treatment of the cooling tower water reduced packaging waste, and saves money. New "green" filters in the HVAC system (while two times more costly) last six times as long.

We are purchasing environmentally preferred products from vendors certified by our purchasing group. Central Supply reprocesses a number of items that could be considered one-time use through a third party vendor. The huge volumes of cardboard boxes are recycled, as are shredded confidential papers. Recycling stations are increasing around campus.

The new dishwasher improved efficiency from 29 percent to 88 percent, saving water, energy and detergent. There is increased purchasing of organic foods. Some of the Styrofoam and all of the plastic utensils have been replaced with corn/sugar cane biodegradable products.

The Green Team's charter says "we will promote a culture of environmental stewardship." Rather than being "The Green Police," we are working to effect change through education, incentives, by emphasizing the positive and whenever possible, by making it fun!

Our projects and initiatives dovetail many of the ones listed above. We have sponsored a number of contests designed to increase awareness on various issues of resource conservation such as "Guess the Power Bill" contests, recycling "dos and don'ts" quiz contest, latte drawings for folks who get to work "green," and the Glass Plate Raffle for those who choose reusable over take-out containers in the cafeteria.

The Stairway to Health initiative encourages the use of the stairs rather than the elevators by making them fun. Dollar-off coupons are posted randomly in the stairwell, which has been turned into a gallery showcasing the photography and artwork of staff, their families and local grade-schoolers.

Reducing the carbon footprint of our hospital promotes health by improving the environment we live in. To borrow a phrase, "what's good for the environment is good for the patient." Providence St. Mary is working hard to take great care of both.

Linda Herbert is a nurse at Providence St. Mary Medical Center and co-chair of the facility's Green Team.

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