Sustainable Missoula: If hospitals can ‘go green,’ so can all organizations

St. Patrick Hospital employees at the 2018 Clark Fork River cleanup in April.

Health care is a crucial and necessary service, providing safe, healing care when it is most needed. Staff at hospitals and clinics work hard to deliver the best care possible, including diagnoses, treatment, evaluation, education, coaching, support, supplies, medications, procedures and a long list of services.

Hospital-based care is a complex endeavor. It relies on some of the most educated and prepared individuals in any community, the most recent technologies and communication systems, safe buildings, and facilities that can provide care through any emergency, storm or disruption.

To accomplish this, hospitals are resource intensive. First, energy. Hospitals are open and running 24-7. In fact, with back-up generators available at all times, electricity at hospitals is never “off.”

As technologies progress, the number of computer-based, high-tech, and electronic services increases. Look into any hospital patient’s room and you’ll see a computer, an electronic bed, IV pumps, telemetry monitors and more. Operating suites and procedural areas have monitoring equipment, anesthesia machines, perfusion consoles and even robots. All require steady, stable electricity.

At present, natural gas is required to keep patients and staff comfortable in some of the largest buildings in any community. Likewise, hospitals use many gallons of water, for sterilization purposes, hygiene, food services, and landscaping.

Hospitals use several potentially harmful chemicals for cleaning, pest control, and in products and building materials.

Lastly, hospitals create an incredible amount of waste, 29 pounds per patient per day on average. Many types of waste are regulated (and expensive), including nuclear, hazardous, infectious, universal and pharmaceutical wastes. Other waste streams include compost, recycling and landfill. Staff must be knowledgeable and careful to segregate these waste streams consistently.

So health care is a necessary service, yet health care creates significant pollution, which can then increase health risks. It’s a vicious cycle.

At Missoula’s Providence St. Patrick Hospital, we are very serious about reducing our pollution and have many programs in place.

Energy:Groundwater cooling, initiated in 1992, has helped avoid millions of dollars in summer cooling costs, and has kept our Energy Use Index (EUI) relatively low.

Facilities staff routinely search for energy savings and have accomplished much, from efficient fans, pumps and HVAC to LED bulbs and occupancy sensors, to a state-of-the-art generator for backup needs.

Because of the groundwater cooling, we have no cooling towers, saving millions of gallons of water compared to other similar hospitals. In addition, we have installed many low-flow services and automatic facilities.

Waste:St. Pat’s staff have been recycling since 1992. In 2017, we recycled 36 percent of the waste stream, well above the national average, and well above the average of Missoulians.

New in 2018 are food composting and regular collections for global donations.

Toxic chemicals:In 2012, before many other medical facilities, St. Pat’s rid itself of products containing triclosan, a pesticide found in hand soaps. This helps create safer conditions for staff and the public.

In addition, St. Pat’s has been essentially mercury free since 2006, is working to decrease chemicals of concern in care products, has reduced overall volumes of chemicals on site, and avoids chemicals such as growth hormones in foods.

Healthy foods:St. Pat’s cafeteria sells fresh food made from scratch. We support Missoula’s Community Supported Agriculture – the CSA program, which has been made available to staff for 6 years. The Providence Foundation, with Garden City Harvest, runs the Providence Garden, which grows food for the Missoula Food Bank, and is the home of the Prescription Produce program, providing subsidies for patients who need better access to fresh, local produce.

Engagement:Each year, the Green 4 Good (the name of St. Pat’s sustainability program) offers staff education and fun during Earth Week. Several volunteer activities are available each year. Hundreds of staff members participate in the monthly Goals 4 Good challenge. Directors in different areas set goals for environmental stewardship, such as linen reduction, more local foods or pilot a new program.

The hospital also helps support efforts in the community in alignment with creating a healthier planet, including Climate Smart Missoula, Mountain Line, the Missoula Food Bank and others.

St. Pat’s staff members actively commute, and they have access to over 100 bike parking places. They can participate formally in our sustainability programs as Waste Shepherds or Green 4 Good Champions.

Strategic planning:St. Pat’s staff members help lead sustainability work across the Washington-Montana Region of 13 hospitals and contribute to system-level planning and education of the 50 hospitals in the Providence St. Joseph Health System.

Mission:In the Providence Core Value of Justice, these words anchor the work of Green 4 Good: “We strive to care wisely for our people, our resources and our earth.”  Recently, the health system developed a new vision statement that aligns with our sustainability efforts: “Health for a better world.”

Who does this work? Beth Schenk, nurse scientist and sustainability coordinator, and Meghan Martin, project manager, lead the Green 4 Good program. This year, they’re helped by Paul Edlund, Energy Corps service member, who shares his time between St. Pat’s and the University of Montana.

But these accomplishments would not be possible without the steady contributions of the many employees who contribute in their daily work in care delivery, management, process improvements, and from commuting to waste segregation.

Hospitals have been described as “the most complex human organization ever designed.” If a hospital, while saving lives, meeting regulatory guidelines, training staff and delivering compassionate care can also significantly decrease its environmental impacts, then any organization can. If we all did, it would help create a future adhering to our vision of Health for a Better World.

Beth Schenk, Ph.D. MHI, RN-BC, is the nurse scientist and sustainability coordinator at Providence St. Patrick Hospital. Join her and other health professionals at Climate Smart Missoula’s next Monthly Meetup June 7 (see below).

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

June 2. National Trails Day. Help clear/repair the Bass Creek Trail on the Bitterroot National Forest. BBQ for volunteers around 4:30 pm @ Wildwood Brewing in Stevensville. More info & register here.

June 2. Montana Native Plant Society annual plant sale.  8am – noon at Clark Fork Farmers Market (east end).

June 3. Grand Opening of Barmeyer Loop Trailon Mount Dean Stone, Missoula’s newest open space. Hike the trail and enjoy refreshments.  12:30-3:30pm. Details here.

June 5. Primary Election. Consider sustainability in your voting preferences and just GO VOTE.

June 7. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup: Health and Climate. Join the conversation. 5-7pm at Imagine Nation Brewing’s Community Room. More here.

June 9. Wildlife and the Small Farm workshop: wildlife friendly gardening and protecting small livestock from predators.  10am-12pm. Details & reserve your spot here.