Recycling and other “green” projects can be great ways for hospitals to save money, but to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Denise Choiniere, RN, MS, environmental initiatives mean so much more.
Choiniere, the first full-time sustainability manager in a Maryland hospital, equates going green with the fundamental mission of nursing.
“We became nurses to promote health and prevent illness,” Choiniere said. “Hospitals are huge consumers of energy, and if healthcare can practice in such a way that we’re not so reliable on fossil fuel, for example, and we can use alternative energy sources, we can improve public health. The burning of fossil fuels promotes air pollution, which then is linked to higher asthma rates. It can be said that we’re causing illness rather than preventing it.
“So that’s my passion as a nurse and why I think it’s so important for nurses to be engaged in sustainability. That’s our bread and butter. That’s why we became nurses. That’s what Florence Nightingale taught us.”
Nurses have a great opportunity to dedicate themselves to environmental initiatives. And it doesn’t take being a manager to make a difference.Daisy Fischer, RN
Choiniere said bedside nurses can be a powerful force in shaping a hospital’s environmental awareness and impact. She knows, because she worked in the cardiac ICU for 12 years before transitioning to her current role.
“I started all this as a bedside nurse looking at batteries,” she said. “Being in cardiology, we used a lot of batteries in the teleboxes with the silly policy that in between patients the batteries were discarded. We didn’t wait for the batteries to die. It was just, ‘Oh, new patient, new batteries.’
“I figured that the hospital was purchasing 97,000 batteries a year, and we were throwing them all out in the trash. Now we’re into a battery recycling program.”
Choiniere was honored in 2011 at the Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment’s annual Environmental Excellence in Health Care Conference as the winner of the first Nursing Leadership in Environmental Health Award.
Choiniere has led UMMC in Baltimore on a number of environmental initiatives, including a program for managing hazardous pharmaceutical waste, Earth Day events and a weekly farmers’ market.
Several Maryland hospitals were recognized with MD H2E Trailblazer Awards, including Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore, which built an employee/community vegetable and herb garden on its campus.
Daisy Fischer, RN, MSN, CPAN, clinical specialist, critical care, has been a member of Good Samaritan’s Green for Good team since 2007. She said the hospital’s Grown for Good Garden, which was created last summer, already is a success.University of Maryland Medical Center’s Denise Choiniere, RN, was the first full-time sustainability manager at a Maryland hospital.
“I was out there loading mulch into wheelbarrows; got my hands dirty,” said Fischer, who has been in nursing for more than 30 years. “We had our first crop, and we were able to send fresh kale, cabbages and broccoli to Our Daily Bread, which is a charitable organization that feeds the homeless. We had a beautiful yield.”
In the hospital’s monthly nursing newsletter, Fischer writes “The Green Scene for Nurses” in which she contributes environmental health tips and news for nurses. Tips range from using safe nail polish to the possible health effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Fischer said she has noticed that her colleagues are catching onto the notion of environmental awareness.
“I’ll hear nurses say at the meetings, ‘Well that’s not very green. Let’s do it this way,'” Fischer said. “So the terminology is out there now.”
Fischer encourages nurses at hospitals that are lacking in green initiatives to try to make a difference. The key, she said, is not to try to take on too much too quickly.
“I would tell them to start out small, baby steps, and then try to grow it to more broad, inclusive initiatives like our garden.
“You have to have a passion for it also. It has taken off here, so that feels good.”
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.