Harmonizing clinical and environmental stewardship

April 8, 2021 Providence Health Team

Recently, Providence leaders, Beth Schenk, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship and Brian Chesebro, MD, Medical Director of Environmental Stewardship for the Oregon region, spoke about the impact that the health care industry has on the environment, addressing the role of environmental stewardship in clinical operations.

Watch the discussion below. [Watch time: 27 minutes]

"Very often when we are making the right choice for the environment, we are also saving money."

- Beth Schenk, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship at Providence

Key takeaways:

  • Climate change is the greatest risk to public health in the 21st century according to the World Health Organization.
  • The health care industry has a significant environmental footprint estimated to emit 8.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gases.
  • Health care professionals, who each take an oath to serve, have a professional obligation to reduce the environmental impact of delivering health services.
  • There is a complex integrated socio-environmental crisis, which must be solved by treating the root causes.
  • Providence reduced greenhouse gas emissions from anesthesia by 95% by using a lower-emitting, lower-cost, alternative anesthetic, that still delivers quality clinical outcomes.
  • Through reduction, reprocessing, repurposing, and recycling, Providence has already seen positive outcomes in other areas, such as optimization of surgical supplies to linen processing.
  • Though healthcare professionals have key roles to play in addressing climate change and health, it is not well known what they think and do about it, and what motivates or demotivates them. If you are a health professional of any kind, please consider taking the CHANT survey here.

Learn more about the organizational efforts on environmental stewardship.


Additional reading

Below are some questions submitted by viewers that were not answered during the recorded conversation. 

Q: Was it a less costly approach as well to standardize on anesthesia gases?

Yes, as it turns out the higher emission anesthetic is also twice as expensive as the lower-emission alternatives. So, in addition to a 95% reduction in carbon emissions, we have seen a 70% cost reduction by selecting the lower-emission anesthetic. Additionally, the quality of care delivery is just as good. Clinicians can wake patients up just as efficiently using a lower carbon, lower cost anesthetic technique. It's a real win-win.

“There are relatively minor clinical differences between the three [anesthetics] but there are major differences in their respective potency as greenhouse gases. The clinical management decisions made every day in our operating rooms determine the extent of our anesthesia emissions .” 

- Brian Chesebro, Medical Director of Environmental Stewardship for Providence in Oregon

Q: Does Providence now, or plan to, train clinicians and caregivers to be more mindful of using products during patient care?

Yes, one example is from last summer, when we conducted our linen lifecycle assessment project. We did so to evaluate our current linen consumption and reduce it. We did so by collecting data and metrics on linen, as well as through education - reaching out to the caregivers in all clinical units to discuss the impact of their clinical decisions. Additionally, we will also be developing a “Clinical Collaborative for Environmental Stewardship” at Providence, which will bring clinicians together to advance our efforts, discuss quality improvement, and cost savings opportunities that also drive down our emissions.

Q: Are there additional efforts in other parts of the Providence system, such as outpatient clinics, cafeterias, and affiliated facilities having ongoing environmental projects?

Yes, Dr. Rod Hochman announced last April that Providence is committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030 and making environmental stewardship an organizational priority. Since then, we introduced our WE ACT framework, which outlines five focus areas that will help us achieve our goal of carbon negativity. Key WE ACT accomplishments from last year on our path to becoming carbon negative by 2030 are highlighted in our Year in Review.





About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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