The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) and its founding health systems announced a set of six challenges for hospitals nationwide aimed at improving the healthcare sector’s environmental footprint during a media briefing Tuesday.
According to Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and speaker during the briefing, hospitals leave a large environmental footprint with energy use, water consumption, hazardous chemicals and huge amounts of food.
With growing evidence that an unhealthy environment can mean more chronic diseases in communities, 10 of the largest health systems in the country, including Inova and Kaiser Permanente, have joined forces around the HHI to challenge their fellow hospitals to adopt critical changes while saving billions in costs, said Cohen.
“With our partners, we have developed implementation packages with proven strategies on the six challenges,” said Cohen. ”The six challenges are engaged leadership, healthier foods, leaner energy, less waste, safer chemicals and smarter purchasing. The HHI will provide a free framework to support the nation’s hospitals in taking on the six HHI challenges.”
Cohen said generous contributions from the sponsoring hospital systems and philanthropic foundations have underwritten the costs of HHI to any hospitals interested in participating in the program. Dozens of leading experts in environmental health and sustainability have contributed to a ‘how-to’ guide that walks participating hospitals through each challenge.
“We are asking hospitals to match that commitment with their own by enrolling in one or more of the challenges,” he said. “Over the course of this three-year initiative, we will expand the number of participating hospitals from 500 to at least 2000, almost 40 percent of the country’s hospitals. We will be measuring this impact by gathering data and metrics from participating hospitals to demonstrate how the entire sector is improving its overall performance.”
According to Cohen, the founding health systems have already been piloting sustainability efforts for around two years.
John Messervy, director of Capital and Facility Planning at Partners HealthCare in Boston and HHI chair, said Partners Healthcare, a 12-hospital system throughout Massachusetts, consumes the equivalent of 42,000 households of energy per year.
“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to reduce our energy consumption by 25 percent by 2014,” said Messervy during the briefing. “Doing things such as turning down the temperature and volume of air in unoccupied rooms and replacing air-handling equipment and pumps with more efficient units makes a huge difference.”
Messervy said their payback on investment is 3.7 years or a 29 percent return on investment for the changes they’ve made in their hospitals.
“Healthcare consumes one-sixth of the nation’s energy, and we generate thousands of tons of waste per day,” he said. “If a hospital’s fundamental commitment is to health, than we have a unique obligation to be leaders in making positive environmental changes.”
Follow Associate Editor Kelsey Brimmer on Twitter @kbrimmerhfn.