Lean and Green in Hospitals

I’ve been writing recently about lean in healthcare, and I’ve also been writing about how well lean fits with issues of sustainability. Therefore, I was delighted to come across a recent article about how hospitals in the Seattle area are trying to embrace a green approach.

This is important because, as the article notes,

Hospitals have long been seen as one of the top waste-producing industries. In 1998, the American Hospital Association and the Environmental Protection Agency agreed on goals to reduce the effect of health care facilities on the environment. The goals included nearly eliminating mercury-containing waste by 2005 and reducing hospital waste 50 percent by 2010.

The article begins by looking at Evergreen Medical Center in Kirkland, and the efforts there by a nurse, Jim Overton, to make the center more environmentally responsible. It then focuses on other hospitals as well.

Overton's "Green Team" expanded the hospital's battery recycling program and collected 1,200 pounds of batteries during the past year. The hospital also collects used and unused-but-opened medical supplies, such as oxygen and blood tubes considered "contaminated" under U.S. regulations. The supplies are sent to Third World countries where they are sterilized and reused for patients there.

The team put up more recycling signs and bins and got the hospital's recycling container emptied three times a week instead of two. Containers for used needles are sterilized and reused, instead of being thrown away with the needles.
Overton started an internal Web site so staff could learn to become more environmentally friendly.

The team gives a monthly "Green Stewardship Award" to a staff-nominated co-worker who gives extra effort to the hospital's environmental progress. Local restaurants donated gift certificates as prizes.

Other Seattle-area hospitals are improving their bottom line by going greener.

Virginia Mason Medical Center's cafeteria has no garbage cans, since 100 percent of the cafeteria's waste is recycled, said Steve Grose, administrative director for process improvement. The hospital composts 750 pounds of food a day instead of grinding it in garbage disposals, which had needed 4,000 gallons of water a day. The water savings pays for the bags and composting, he said. In January, Virginia Mason began recycling 70 percent of the plastic used in about 70 surgeries a day.

The hospital hopes to eventually eliminate garbage cans throughout the hospital and recycle everything.

(Note: Later this year, Productivity Press will publish a book about how Virginia Mason Medical Center is applying lean methods to its operations.)

The University of Washington Medical Center recently started a paper-shredding program with Weyerhaeuser that the hospital estimates will save $70,000 a year. Surgical instruments are now disinfected with a less hazardous chemical. In 2006, the medical center began buying 100 percent renewable energy from Seattle City Light, which cost the hospital an extra $40,000 a year, but was worth the added expense, said hospital officials.

In two years, a water reuse system at UW Consolidated Laundry has saved 12 million gallons of water for a cost saving of $140,000 in water and $79,000 in natural gas.

Swedish Medical Center estimates saving more than $ 1 million since 2001 by recycling, said Michael Smith, the hospital's waste compliance manager. Swedish eliminated blood pressure monitors containing about 180 pounds of mercury -- and recycles all paper, cardboard, metals, batteries, lamps and printer toner cartridges, he said.

Food composting will begin at the end of March. It is working on a better way to dispose of expired medications and chemotherapy waste.

Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center recycled more than 40 tons of computer monitors in 2006 and composts food, saving about $8,000 on water a year. Using new technology for cleaning and sterilizing surgical instruments, which uses more high heat and steam, Children's saves 4,100 gallons of water per day and more than $18,000 per year.

The article does not say specifically that lean tools or strategies are being used to accomplish environmental benefits. But at the very least, reducing environmental problems is elimination of waste, a key lean benefit. I hope we see more of this soon, and I expect we will.


Librarian by Profession Hiker for Pleasure said...

Hi, I am a librarian at Rhode Island Hospital and will be chairing a regional conference in 2010 for medical librarians in New England. I am interested in planning to use this topic as my theme for the conference and am interested in pursing people who can speak on this topic. Do you have any suggestions for dynamic speakers who are doing the work you mention in your blogg? Sue

Ralph Bernstein said...

Email me directly at ralph.bernstein@taylorandfrancis.com and we can discuss it. And if anyone else has suggestions, please post them here or get in touch with me.