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Waste Not, Want Not

Being “green” at Evergreen Healthcare in Kirkland, Wash., a Seattle suburb, has taken on a new dimension.

Under the influence of the Green Team, a small band of environmentally minded nurses, the staff is being educated and prodded to reduce waste, adopt sustainable habits, and lighten their impact on the environment.

Pediatric nurse Jim Overton, RN, MSN, initiated the endeavor four years ago when he learned the IV and feeding tubing used in the NICU contained di-ethyl-hexyl-phthalate (DEHP), a potentially toxic chemical.

Overton searched for a cost-effective, nontoxic alternative and worked with the hospital’s equipment department until the new tubing became the standard.
“I’ve always hated to see waste and toxins in the environment,” Overton says. After the IV tubing change, Overton began circulating e-mails through the Evergreen Healthcare system, encouraging movement toward a cleaner, less environmentally impactful healthcare practice.

Kathy Erickson, RNC, BSN, the heart failure resource nurse, and Mary Dennison, RN, BSN, CNOR, OR clinical educator, joined him, dubbing themselves the Green Team. From the start, it has been a grassroots endeavor.

“Evergreen Healthcare has always been pretty green,” Overton says. The Green Team is nudging staff and departments toward an ever more environmentally sound practice. For example, the hospital had been separating glass, paper, and cardboard into recycling containers, an action Overton says was hit or miss. Many more staff got on board with recycling once Overton discovered the recycled goods could be mixed, requiring less effort on everyone’s part.

In addition to strong encouragement to make waste recycling a habit, the Green Team has initiated battery recycling and broadened the collection of usable supplies for shipment to Third World health centers. Erickson initiated battery recycling by stationing recycle bins on each floor and posting reminder signs. The hospital kept 1,300 pounds of batteries out of the garbage last year. “Since our trash is measured by the pound, we saved the hospital that much in garbage costs,” Erickson says, “and kept mercury out of the landfill.”

Mary Dennison, RN, clinical educator, shows
medical supplies collected for distribution to organizations that send them overseas.

Keeping a variety of still-useful supplies out of landfills has resulted in a significant stream of donations to organizations that distribute them to needy clinics overseas. “We’re surplusing leftover older cribs to hospitals in Uganda and Nepal, as well as things like disposables,” Overton explains. “It used to be that someone would open a package of IV tubing, then realize it was the wrong type. It would be taped closed and put back on the supply shelf, but no one would use it, and eventually it would expire and be thrown away,” Overton says.

Dennison coordinates collection and transport of the supplies, everything from expired vacuum blood collection tubes to partial packages of diapers left after a pediatric discharge.

Education is pivotal in enlisting others’ participation, Overton says. He invited a member of ISIS,* a charitable foundation that collects donated supplies for Third World needs, to speak to the staff about how donated items dramatically improved health care for residents in Nepal and Uganda.

“That made a big different in the volume of things being saved,” he says. “It showed us that the reasons for being green need to be concrete.”

Administration support has been slowly coming, Overton says. Cheryl Nail, RN, MN, chief nursing officer, admits the Green Team has been a “covert operation. “The projects they’ve worked on have had a real impact on our organization, and it’s been a financial benefit to us,” she says. “We’re trying now to give them the exposure and resources they need to succeed.” Nail says the administration is considering how to compensate the Green Team nurses.

Erickson hopes the “baby steps” of progress made so far will be more noticeable as administration supports the effort. “We know people want to do what they can to help, they just don’t know what to do,” she says. The Green Team is focusing on convincing Evergreen Healthcare’s decision makers that the organization needs more environmental direction from the top and a sustainable plan for the hospital. Overton said he continues to negotiate and educate to encourage and initiate change.

In addition to the nurses’ initiatives, other departments are joining in. “Our head of dietary changed the plates in the cafeteria to corn-based material, which is 100% biodegradable,” Erickson says. Composting kitchen waste also is in the works, Overton says.

“Up until now, people have thought it was much easier to throw something away,” he says. “We’ve been trying to change their habits. We’re ingraining a whole culture in the healthcare system.”

“Our vision is to see ourselves and our healthcare system become more responsible to the environment,” Erickson adds. “There’s so much we can’t do anything about, but there is still much we can do.”

* Editor’s note: ISIS is an acronym for the business International Solutions and Investment Strategies, as well as the foundation Initiating Sustainable Integrated Solutions. Its name is inspired by Isis, the goddess of motherhood. For more information, visit www.isis.bm.

By | 2020-04-15T15:52:07-04:00 June 16th, 2008|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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