The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced its latest green building rating system, LEED for Healthcare, which outlines environmentally responsible design and construction requirements for both new buildings and major renovations of existing buildings. The rating system applies to inpatient, outpatient and licensed long-term care facilities, medical offices, assisted living facilities and medical education and research centers. Jan/san distributors can make a small contribution to help facilities earn credits.

LEED for Healthcare was developed to meet the unique needs of medical facilities, including 24-hour operations and the presence of patients with compromised immune systems, who are sensitive to chemicals and pollutants. For example, most of the Indoor Environmental Quality credits have been modified from New Construction (LEED-NC) guidelines to align the need for infection control, to protect patients from contaminants and the strict code regulations on ventilation with green building strategies, according to the USGBC.

"Research has shown that when we are treated and heal in a green healthcare facility — one that has a healthy indoor environmental quality and connects us to the outdoors — we heal faster, have shorter hospital stays and fewer return visits," said Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED, USGBC in a news release. "LEED for Healthcare is now six years in the making, addressing the healthcare industry's unique green building needs."

The USGBC collaborated with Green Guide for Healthcare (GGHC), a project of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and Health Care Without Harm to create the new rating system. The GGHC pilot launched in 2007, and feedback from the projects helped inform the creation of LEED for Healthcare, according to the USGBC.

Since LEED for Healthcare is based on LEED-NC criteria, jan/san distributors can best help their customers reach certification by developing cleaning programs that will meet the Innovation in Design credit and earn one point. At a minimum, distributors should base programs off the green cleaning requirements found in Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) guidelines. They can also reference GGHC cleaning requirements.

Since healthcare facilities house vulnerable populations, cleaning programs should stress the use of green certified chemicals with low volatile organic compounds. In addition, GGHC emphasizes products that are fragrance-free and discourage the use of air fresheners, deodorizer sprays and urinal blocks to help protect vulnerable occupants.

"Not only is the work that [cleaning providers] do critical to indoor air quality, it pours right over into the production of the occupants and how they feel everyday," says Vince Fagan, founder of Fagan Solutions, Frankfurt, Ill.

LEED for Healthcare is also concerned with preventing cross-contamination, so cleaning programs should also promote proper hand hygiene procedures as outlined in LEED-EBOM IEQ Prerequisite 3 and GGHC, as well as use color-coded tools.

In addition to products, distributors can tailor the scope of cleaning to a healthcare setting and take into account proper procedures and frequencies depending on the area of a facility, says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind.

"Only about 10 percent of a hospital is high-risk areas. Much of a hospital resembles an office building," he adds.

Administration areas, offices, stores and other low-risk spaces don't need to be cleaned with the same intensity and frequency as surgical suites and patient rooms. GGHC states that cleaning programs should "minimize the use of disinfectants when not necessary for infection control reasons."

"Green just isn't about using green products; it's about using them effectively and efficiently throughout the operation," says Ashkin.

One point can also be earned towards LEED for Healthcare by installing proper matting. LEED guidelines require 10 feet of entryway matting. Roll out mats are acceptable if cleaned on a weekly basis.

The industry may eventually see a LEED program designed for ongoing operations in healthcare facilities that includes specific guidelines for green cleaning. Currently GGHC is undergoing another pilot in more than 70 hospitals to test criteria for day-to-day operations. GGHC started with LEED-EBOM guidelines and expanded the scope to include products and procedures relevant for a healthcare facility, says Sara Cederberg, manager in the LEED department.

The pilot is set to close in June.

"Once that pilot has closed we'll have a better understanding of what an operation section for healthcare would look like in LEED," says Cederberg.