Hospital waste initiative provides lessons for physicians

A report shows how health organizations can reduce their bottom lines by creating a culture of cutting environmental costs.

By — Posted May 14, 2013

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A group of large hospital systems promoting environmental initiatives says it has saved money and energy and cut waste, and that physician practices can benefit from following its lead.

The first Healthier Hospital Initiatives Milestone report, released in late April, looked at how hospitals and health systems can change their cultures to become more environmentally aware. By engaging and educating employees, buying more cost-effective products and creating a culture that promotes cost savings, practices can reap similar rewards, said Seema Wadhwa, director of Healthier Hospital Initiatives, which was formed by large hospital systems. “Physicians can create cultures in their practices of wasting less and saving more.”

Physician practice consultants said their clients have been focused on running practices at maximum efficiencies instead of considering the environmental impact and its effect on their bottom lines. “I think there is simply not much demand there,” said Karen Petrillo, director of marketing at business practice consultant DoctorsManagment. However, Wadhwa said her organization’s report could give practices ideas for relatively easy, money-saving methods.

HHI’s campaign kicked off in 2012 with about 500 hospitals joining groups involved in improving the environmental sustainability of health care. The campaign asked hospitals to commit to three-year initiatives to enhance the health and safety of patients, staff and communities.

The HHI report said more than 50 million pounds of materials were recycled in the first year, and 61.5 million pounds of construction and demolition waste was kept out of landfills through reuse and recycling (link).

The report did not say how much hospitals saved collectively because of environmental initiatives. But it noted some examples of savings, such as $32 million from reprocessing single-use medical devices.

Safety also part of effort

Using safer chemicals is another way for physicians to lower costs. MedStar’s Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore saved $192,000 in 2012 by standardizing its chemical cleaners to Green Seal-certified, eco-preferred cleaner option. Previously, it used separate cleaners for various areas.

It also saved money by switching to chemical-free floor stripping technology, adopting a chemical-control floor waxing process and switching from reusable to microfiber mops.

Bon Secours Health System in Virginia developed an ecological stewardship plan and formed its own energy task force designed in part to engage and educate employees about energy conservation. It purchased Energy Star-rated electronics and implemented strategies such as using energy-efficient lights, steam-trap maintenance and efficient generator testing. It reduced energy by 20%, received $150,000 in rebates and cut energy costs by $850,000.

Wadhwa said one of the easiest way physicians can save money is by implementing rules for employees to shut off lights and computers at the end of each day.

“This is something all practices should do regardless of size,” she said.

Some hospitals have had success in this area, she said. Poudre Valley Hospital in Colorado asked employees to turn off lights when leaving rooms, shut down monitors at the end of each shift and unplug other machines when leaving for the weekend.

Employees who complied were given $5 cafe coupons as incentives. The hospital reduced its annual electric bill by about $13,800, according to the HHI report.

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