Six large healthcare systems are backing an initiative to significantly advance the use of green business practices by hospitals.
Healthcare heavyweights back use of initiative
The effort, called the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, has initial support from Advocate Health Care, Oak Brook, Ill.; Catholic Healthcare West, San Francisco; HCA, Nashville; Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; MedStar Health, Columbia, Md.; and Partners HealthCare System, Boston. The six systems, which together own about 260 hospitals, put up an unspecified amount of seed money to launch the initiative. But the group—whose primary goals are moving suppliers toward the production of greener products and services and reducing the costs of those goods—acknowledged that the effort would succeed only if it gains support from other hospitals and healthcare systems.
“We're a big whopper of a healthcare system,” said Robert Gotto, executive director, procurement and supply with Kaiser Permanente. “We'll spend about $14.1 billion on purchasing this year, but if you look at it, we're just 2% to 3% of the U.S. healthcare market, where Wal-Mart is 40% of their market share in the U.S. So we really need that collaboration to move the market.”
Unveiled last week during the CleanMed conference in Baltimore, the effort lays out a broad preliminary plan for engaging chief hospital executives in environmental policy development, setting costs-reduction targets and standards for product contents, and reducing energy use and generated waste.
The initiative follows several earlier efforts to green portions of the healthcare supply chain. They include a 1998 agreement between the American Hospital Association and the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate mercury from the supply chain and the creation last year of the Hospital Energy Alliance—a coalition of nine healthcare systems that committed to advancing hospitals' adoption of renewable energy technology.
Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm—which along with Practice Greenhealth and the Center for Health Design helped developed the project—said the initiative seeks to rapidly build on lessons learned from those earlier efforts.
“The difference now is the scale on which we'll work with group purchasing organizations and large systems to link together purchasing power to move the marketplace,” Cohen said. He added that changes in the political climate also are providing momentum.
Kathy Gerwig, environmental stewardship officer and vice president of workplace safety for Kaiser Permanente, agreed. “This year we saw legislation introduced that is meaningful in terms of environmental improvement,” Gerwig said during a news briefing May 12 announcing the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.
Gerwig pointed to two bills introduced in April, each aimed at overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. The Senate's Safe Chemical Act, introduced by Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, would require manufacturers to test all industrial chemicals and prove they are safe for product use. The legislation would require the EPA to categorize chemicals based on safety risk and make that information available through a public database. The bill also proposes a grant program to fund development of green chemistry.
Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have drafted a similar House bill called the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act. That legislation would also increase the EPA's authority to enforce safe-chemical requirements and establish a program to evaluate children's vulnerability to chemicals.
If passed, the legislation would help hospitals determine whether the supplies they purchase—from cleaning products to building materials to clinical supplies—are environmentally safe, Gerwig said. The proposed EPA database could, for example, give purchasing officers another tool on which to base their environmentally preferred purchasing standards and push manufacturers to offer more affordable green products.
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