Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) is an organization offering voluntary programs designed to help health-care facilities enhance workplace safety, reduce waste and waste disposal costs, and become better environmental stewards and neighbors.

Membership is free, and members are usually at the head of the class when it comes to “greening” medical facilities.

The H2E Champion for Change Award is presented to organizations dedicated to improving environmental performance in the health-care sector. H2E supports hospitals that embrace its green agenda and implement waste reduction activities at their facilities.

Foote Health System
George Gancsos is a committee member of “H2E Champion” Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHHA) and an H2E member through Foote Health System in Jackson, Mich. As director of plant engineering and housekeeping, Gancsos encourages management at the 414-bed facility to redefine healthy cleaning and overall well-being.

One of Foote Health System’s recent improvements was to remove all carpet in patient areas and replace it with wood floors.

“Sweepers don’t raise dust, and it’s actually easier to clean,” says Gancsos. “A damp wide mop covers lots of area quickly and minimizes noise pollution as people are trying to sleep and recover. The hard floor was definitely supported by our infection-control department. I don’t have the payback numbers, but it’s cheaper from a maintenance perspective.”

While eliminating the commotion of vacuum cleaners makes for a more peaceful environment, there is now less textile to muffle sounds, which challenges a different initiative — noise pollution reduction.

“The new floor doesn’t absorb as much sound, so we’re installing more sound-absorbent ceiling tiles,” says Gancsos. “We are also going through a reduced-noise initiative hospital-wide: less talk at the nurses’ station, and going to vibrating pagers and cell phones. Sound control contributes to our sense of well being — sound is one of the healing environment aspects of it.”

Foote Health Systems is also virtually mercury-free. “I think within the next couple of years it will be more of an expectation — you’ll be the exception if you’re not,” Gancsos says.

So what’s next on the horizon? “Finding more and more markets for recycling things like polystyrenes,” he says. “Everyone recycles ‘1’ and ‘2’ plastics, but nothing beyond that. Recycling of surgery drapes, too. It’s a cost issue, but the more people do it, the costs will come down.”

Sparrow Health Systems
Forty miles north, in Lansing, Mich., is another MHHA member and an H2E leader: Sparrow Health Systems. Director of Environmental Services Reza Tavakoli helped Sparrow win H2E’s “Making Medicine Mercury Free” award this year. The 700-plus-bed hospital has been a member of H2E for four years, and Tavakoli says the program’s popularity and momentum continue to grow as staff get more involved in making their community a healthier one.

“We get great ideas from hospitals nationwide, and have borrowed some,” he says. “People [internally] are always calling with [new] ideas.

“What has helped is the awards and recognitions from H2E,” Tavakoli says. “For years and years the only departments that received awards were nursing or radiology, and it was unheard of for housekeeping. This year, we received the leadership award from H2E — only eight or nine hospitals have earned it.”

Tavakoli also switched Sparrow’s mop system to microfiber, which, he says, wasn’t cheap. But he’s eliminated dust-mopping and sweeping in patient rooms and uses a fraction of the disinfectants, sterilants and water compared to the old system. Staff also save time by washing walls with the same mop head, and since tools are lighter and easier to handle they’ve reduced back injuries — an important benefit as the country’s work force gets older, says Tavakoli.

The Sparrow staff recycles all batteries; is taking steps to eliminate a plasticizer called DEHP from its neo natal department: studies indicate it may affect male babies’ health; replaced 55,000 disposable mattress pads with reusable pads; reprocesses surgical instruments; and recycles what can’t be reprocessed. Sparrow also switched to smaller test tubes to reduce biowaste — an idea suggested by lab personnel.

Tavakoli also plans to replace disposable plastic sharps containers with reusable containers.

St. Luke’s Hospital
St. Luke’s Hospital in Maumee, Ohio, a 312-bed facility, belongs to the Ohio Hospital Association — an H2E Champion. Director of Environmental Services Jim Joldrichsen joined St. Luke’s about a year ago and immediately signed the facility up for H2E. The hospital recently earned H2E’s “Making Medicine Mercury Free” award.

“Mercury-free was a priority,” says Joldrichsen. “But to be totally mercury-free in a hospital would be false,” he adds. “It’s in florescent lights in small amounts so we can’t totally get away [from mercury in products], but we came up with purchasing policies and different ways of looking for mercury-free substitutes.”

He points out that blood-pressure cuffs and thermometers have gone mercury-free. The majority of lab equipment that had mercury is now gone, too, says Joldrichsen.

Waste reduction efforts at St. Luke’s include a recycling program for cardboard, paper, aluminum, tin, batteries, lights, cotton, fabrics and grease. The organization has stopped providing newspapers to patients; replaced disposable gowns with washable gowns; recycles carpet; uses a dilution-control service with a pre-measured pump that cuts down on wasted chemicals, and is using more green cleaners.

Joldrichsen uses a milder floor stripper — as “green” as a stripper can be and still do its job. “Think of the words ‘stripper’ or ‘finish removal,’” he says. “I don’t think they’ll ever have a real green solution for that process. It can’t be that green if it’s got to do what it’s got to do.”

St. Joseph Hospital
Rick Labrecque, director of environmental services at 210-bed St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, N.H. has belonged to H2E for eight years and is also a member of New Hampshire Hospital Association, an H2E Champion.

St. Joseph switched to microfiber; minimized mercury-containing items; replaced disposable hospital gowns with reusable gowns; recycles all batteries — not just those with lead or mercury — and specifies products with less packaging. “We just got 40 computers and you wouldn’t believe how much packaging!” he says. Labrecque and the management staff recently visited a nearby landfill, which left a huge impression on them. “It was pretty scary, standing 150 feet in the air,” says Labrecque. “The amount of trash — it looked insurmountable.”

The hospital also shreds all paper — and not just confidential material. Eventually, an outside recycling service weighs it, presents a certificate of poundage, and hauls it away. “It’s only a penny more than a landfill right now,” says Labrecque, adding that while the vendor won’t pick up “small” quantities like 200 pounds per week, even a smaller medical facility like his discards an average of 1,500-2,000 pounds of magazines, newspapers, journals and other scrap paper per week.

St. Joseph donates food, clothing, furniture, computers and used medical equipment. Still functional but older items like IV poles and stretchers end up in Honduras, and 15 beds with pressure reduction mattresses were recently gifted to a local nursing home.

Labrecque says his state’s H2E Champion association, especially H2E’s e-mail listserv, has become beneficial, not only for green housekeeping ideas, but also in keeping morale high.

Click to learn more about H2E and to join its listserv.

Lauren Summerstone is a business writer based in Madison, Wis.