Reducing surgical waste at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center

Authors: Brian Chesebro, M.D., medical director, Environmental Stewardship, Providence
David Wilson, process improvement coach, Strategic Management Services, Providence Oregon


Although April 22 was Earth Day, Providence knows that environmental stewardship is a priority that deserves our attention every day of the year. As a health care system, Providence has a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030 and to divert greater than 50% of our total organizational waste away from landfills or incineration.

Two years ago, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center embarked on a journey to understand and significantly reduce environment waste in our ORs. Working as a team – surgeons, nurses, process improvement engineers, hospital leaders and others – we examined every aspect of processes and supplies in the OR, with an eye toward safely reducing unnecessary waste.

The reality is that every decision in the OR results in waste, including the many bags of trash filled with single-use supplies, as well as the surgical instruments and devices that require a lot of water and energy for sterilization.

Using a data-driven approach, we reviewed all surgical preference cards – which can be anywhere from two to 20-plus pages – and evaluated line by line which items are necessary, which ones could be held back unopened until/if they’re needed, and which items could be removed from the preference cards. This short video describes our process.

As a result, the Providence St. Vincent team has made important inroads in environmental stewardship. In the last two years, the OR has saved:

  • 1,660 metric tons of carbon equivalents
  • 990,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity
  • Approximately 2 million gallons of water

We can always do better, and we’re working to find more ways to reduce our environmental footprint while always keeping patient quality and safety as our No. 1 priority.

Providence hospitals, both in Oregon and throughout our seven-state system, are making key environmental improvements in areas such as waste, water, electricity, chemicals, food and transportation. The surgical waste reduction program at Providence St. Vincent is just one of many examples of our health system’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship. 

For more information

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