Quality healthcare shouldn’t damage the planet

October 28, 2020 Providence News Team

Providence is committed to delivering environmental stewardship healthcare to the communities we serve.

  • Environmental stewardship addresses the harmful impacts of climate change and its effect on our community’s health.
  • The Providence plan includes a pledge to care for the earth and support policies that improve and protect our environment.
  • The WE ACT framework helps caregivers at Providence identify ways to improve the organization’s environmental stewardship.

[3 MIN READ]

Scrolling through your social media feed or viewing a nightly news broadcast can often feel a little overwhelming as reports of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and political and social unrest infiltrate every post, article or segment.

Are you ready for good news for a change? Let’s talk about the environment and the steps Providence is taking to lessen the ecological impact of the care we provide. Even during a pandemic, the Providence leaders feel it's important to talk about appreciating our natural environment and all Earth provides. We are committed to doing our part to protect our natural resources.

Providence is committed to reducing emissions and becoming carbon negative by 2030. Environmental stewardship in healthcare is when we adopt policies and practices that don't use excessive amounts of Earth's limited resources. 

On Earth Day earlier this year, Dr. Rod Hochman, president and CEO, announced that Providence is committed to reducing emissions and becoming carbon negative by 2030. Environmental stewardship in healthcare is when we adopt policies and practices that don't use excessive amounts of Earth's limited resources. Our commitment to environmental stewardship in healthcare means the Providence team works hard to integrate green principles into our everyday processes. It's all about operating more efficiently and using our resources wisely.

“We are a polluting entity. And I don’t mean just Providence, I meant the entire industry. And we don’t want to do that because we want to take care of our world. Our contribution to climate change has a toll on people’s lives—in their asthma rates and their heat stroke and heat illness and respiratory diseases, etc. It’s not fair to other people, other species, the world,” says Beth Schenk, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship for Providence.

We're making significant progress. Over the last three years we've:

  • Implemented a sophisticated digital software platform that allows us to monitor, measure and report on the energy used at hundreds of our facilities. This gives us hard data, keeps us accountable and helps us identify areas with opportunities for improvement.
  • Transformed our purchasing strategies to secure more competitive options and enable us to select renewable energy options and products.
  • Engaged our caregivers with regular communication about our work and ways they can help us become greener.

We are very proud of our efforts. Together we’re making a difference in the care of what Pope Francis calls "our common home.” Without protecting Earth, we cannot achieve a better world.

"We are really getting up against the wire with climate change and greenhouse emissions, so we are taking it seriously and asking that everyone at Providence do their part," says Beth Schenk.

“We are really getting up against the wire with climate change and greenhouse emissions, so we are taking it seriously and asking that everyone at Providence do their part. Not only with our own operations but to be a leader in the field,” says Beth.

In implementing our strategic plan, we are engaging with partners to address the social and environmental determinants of health and focus on education, housing and the environment. Infused in all of our efforts is our core value of justice—striving to care wisely for our people, resources, and Earth.

According to Pope Francis, "We are stewards, not masters of our Earth. Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for the precious gift of God’s creation.”

It's one of the ways we're living out the words of Pope Francis, who said, “We are stewards, not masters of our Earth. Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for the precious gift of God’s creation.”

“It’s primarily a justice issue. It’s just not fair for us to senselessly blow through our resources when others in the world don’t have what they need and future generations are being given short shrift,” Beth explains.

WE ACT

There are more than 100,000 caregivers within the Providence health system. All of them have a role in reducing the environmental impact of our services and facilities. The WE ACT framework identifies six key focus areas in which Providence impacts the carbon footprint and helps identify priorities for potential improvement.

The elements of WE ACT are:

  • Waste
  • Energy/water
  • Agriculture/food
  • Chemicals
  • Transportation

History of environmental stewardship at Providence: Real examples

At Providence, we have been recycling and striving for energy efficiency for over 30 years. In addition to being active advocates for the climate in California, Oregon, Washington and federally, we have committed to design and build all new construction to LEED Silver standards. Many of our hospitals have been recognized with Environmental Excellence Awards from Practice Greenhealth, and Energy Star recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency. We are achieving substantial savings through conservation of supplies, including linen, paper, clinical supplies, energy, and water.

Through our leadership team's commitment, ongoing communication, sharing best practices, and recognizing our caregivers and ministries, we are fostering engagement and education both within and outside our organization. We are also supporting our communities to build resilience in the face of environmental crises like fires, flooding, disease and mental health challenges that amplify the risks for food security, housing, employment, violence and injustice.

Anesthetic agents

Factories and power plants are not the only significant offenders when it comes to greenhouse gases. Some drugs used for anesthesia during surgery are very potent greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.

Providence Portland Medical Center reduced both cost and greenhouse gas emissions by switching to an anesthetic agent that stays in the atmosphere for only a year, compared to lingering up to 14 years, like some other products. As an added bonus, the greener choice was also more affordable.

Some drugs used for anesthesia during surgery are very potent greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. Providence Portland Medical Center reduced both cost and greenhouse gas emissions by switching to an anesthetic agent that stays in the atmosphere for only a year.

The change saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and cut gas emissions by 1,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide—about the same as driving a Hummer 1.2 million miles.

Reusable cups and unused food

Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals in Sonoma County, California, are doing their part to improve sustainability with several programs dedicated to minimizing waste. One program encourages employees to purchase reusable cups at the ministry gift shop to receive a discount on fountain drinks and coffee. Disposable cup usage dropped by hundreds of cups a month in the first year after the launch.

Another program partners Santa Rosa with Sonoma Food Runners to donate safe, edible, excess food to neighborhood food banks and local shelters. In a three-month period, the hospitals donated more than 1200 pounds of food to some of their community’s most vulnerable residents.

Composting and recycling

By composting their food preparation waste, Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, processed an astonishing 24.1 tons of food in less than one year. This not only cut down on the amount of waste going to the landfill, but it also reduced the methane gas emissions produced by discarded organic waste. The hospital is currently investigating ways to expand their efforts to include food waste from patient and cafeteria trays. St. Patrick’s also recycles or safely diverts more than 50% of the facility’s waste.

By composting their food preparation waste, Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana, not only cut down on the amount of waste going to the landfill, but it also reduced the methane gas emissions produced by discarded organic waste. 

Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, works with Anchorage re:MADE to donate unused items that would typically go to the landfill. Artists and volunteers take the items and transform them into art and sell them. Proceeds help support training and job development for people trying to escape poverty and other challenges to making a life change.

Renewable energy credits

Ministries in Washington took advantage of a new program offered by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) that allowed the purchase of renewable energy credits. By early next year, PSE is expected to generate an amount of wind and solar energy equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power Providence’s 17 eligible facilities in Washington. This partnership reduces the impact the ministries have on the environment and allows them to lock in utility rates for the next 10 years to avoid anticipated cost increases.

Doing our part

Environmental stewardship is not just the right thing to do for our caregivers, patients and communities. It is fundamental to our identity and critical for efficient operations.

"We want to bring the lens of environmental justice to what we consider when we look at the risks to health or quality of life in our communities," says Beth Schenk.

“We are committed to supporting the communities we serve where our hospitals and clinics are located. We want to bring the lens of environmental justice to what we consider when we look at the risks to health or quality of life in our communities. And there are many. I see our efforts as a demonstration of what can be done,” Beth says.

Learn more about environmental stewardship in health practices at Providence @Providence. #HealOurPlanet #CarbonNegative2030

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We understand the health of the planet affects the health of everyone who calls it home. Providence is taking steps to minimize the environmental damage caused by the care we provide. It’s one of the ways we protect the communities we serve. 

Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.

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Related resources

Video: Garden of Giving

Video: Environmental Stewardship

Video: Saint Patrick HealthBreak - Environmental Excellence Awards

Is A Zero-Waste Lifestyle A Plus for Your Health?

Missoula anesthesiologists consider drug change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Share your efforts to #GoGreen every day with readers @providence.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

 

About the Author

The Providence News Team brings you the updates to keep you informed about what's happening across the organizational ecosystem. From partnerships to new doctor announcements, we are committed to keeping you informed.

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