Rehab hospital on Cape Cod takes “going green” seriously
Sandwich, MA — The Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands (RHCI, www.rhci.org) has won two prestigious national “green” awards for instituting environmentally friendly practices and for efforts to eliminate mercury.
The organization Practice Greenhealth (www.practicegreenhealth.org) awarded RHCI its “Partner Recognition Award” and “Making Medicine Mercury-Free Award.” The group consists of hospitals, healthcare systems and businesses across the country committed to establishing strong environmental practices “to improve the health of patients, staff and the environment.”
“We’ve come a long way in just two years,” said Sharon Gale, PT, MHA, manager of outpatient operations and co-chair of the hospital’s environmental unit, called the RHCI Green Team. The 12-member Green Team is a cross-section of administrators, managers, doctors and therapists who meet regularly to decide what needs to be addressed environmentally – and how to get there.
“I think our efforts have been successful because there’s a big ‘buy-in’ from the hospital’s administration,” said Dawn Lucier, a physical therapist who co-chairs the Green Team with Gale.
“We know that the health of the environment is inextricably linked to our health, so part of our extended mission is to be good stewards of our natural resources,” said Carol Sim, president and chief executive officer. “We have focused on efforts that balance fiscal responsibility and high environmental yield.”
Project Greenhealth cited the hospital’s green efforts on multiple fronts:
Environmental Purchasing Policy
For the past year, hospital officials have worked with its purchasing department to start “buying green.”
“This area is often overlooked, but it’s important,” Lucier said. “Our policy lets our suppliers know that, when able, RHCI is committed to the purchase of environmentally preferable products, whether it’s made out of recycled materials or is more earth-friendly.” This includes switching over many of the hospital’s traditional cleaning supplies to more environmentally friendly versions.
The hospital also works with vendors to combine multiple orders before shipping to decrease packaging waste.
Energy Efficiency, Water Conservation
In addition, RHCI focused on cutting energy usage and water consumption. Workers installed motion sensor lights in some non-patient areas, replaced bulbs and lighting fixtures, streamlined heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, and started purchasing only Energy Star-rated products.
For example, in just the kitchen alone, the hospital reduced its water use from 146,000 gallons to 1,566 gallons a year by installing a new steamer. That steamer helped reduce kitchen electricity use from 65,700 kw/year to 5475 kw/year.
Finally, the hospital installed a rain water collector located in the adaptive gardens patients use during therapy.
“We get a lot done by educating the staff,” Lucier says. Using e-mail, seminars and other forums, the Green Team strives to get every staffer thinking green. “There’s been a learning curve for most everyone, but it’s beginning to pay off.”
Project Greenhealth cited several “employee initiatives” that hospital staff members took, including:
– Reducing the number of “hard copy” reports, e-mails and other documents. Hospital e-mails carry a tagline strongly suggesting the reader not make a printout.
– Eliminating unwanted or unnecessary catalogues, periodicals and newspapers.
– At staff recognition events, the hospital awards reusable coffee mugs and grocery totes. Staff members receive a discount for using reusable cups instead of Styrofoam cups; they also give grocery totes to the public at health fairs.
From thermometers to blood pressure meters to X-Ray film and light bulb filaments, mercury is prevalent in many hospitals. It’s also a toxic chemical that gives off hazardous vapors which are invisible and odorless. It’s a serious hazard to patients and staff members alike.
RHCI addressed the issue head on by enhancing its mercury-related policies to create a comprehensive mercury management policy. The policy:
– Enhanced protocols for safe handling.
– Implemented a detailed procedure to dispose of mercury, including spill cleanup procedures.
– Established a mercury-free purchasing policy. The hospital has developed a preferred list of vendors willing to provide mercury-free product alternatives.
RHCI’s efforts have also drawn local praise. The Sandwich Chamber of Commerce (www. sandwichchamber.com) in May named RHCI a recipient of its newly created Cape and Islands Green Award. The chamber cited the hospital’s emphasis on employee training, recycling and switching to environmentally friendly cleaning products. “RHCI is a wonderful success story,” said Chamber Executive Director Kate Bavelock. “They’ve had some really concrete successes.”
On May 4 RHCI’s Green Team received a Partners HealthCare Sustainable Initiatives Earth Day Award. Partners HealthCare Inc. (www.partners.org) launched the award series this year to recognize teams and individuals who have dedicated significant effort to reinforce sustainable initiatives throughout the Partners facilities.
Lucier said RHCI is well on its way to implementing three new goals for 2010: achieving total mercury-free status; investigating alternative energy sources including wind and solar power; and offering healthy food choices by buying and supporting local farmers and suppliers who buy locally.
“While there have been ups and downs, overall this has been a lot of fun,” Lucier said. “It’s exciting to be able to make such significant changes.”
Information, interview requests:
If you would like more information on RHCI’s program, or wish to interview members of the Green Team, please contact Carole Stasiowski at 508-833-4006.
The Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands provides comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation for Cape Cod, the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, along with the South Shore and South Coast regions. Inpatient programs specialize in caring for persons with stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, joint replacement surgery, amputation, multiple trauma, and complex medical conditions. RHCI also offers extensive outpatient therapy and rehabilitation physician services in centers in Sandwich, Yarmouth, Orleans and Plymouth. RHCI for Children Eileen M. Ward Rehabilitation Center is a regional resource for children with a wide range of needs.
RHCI is part of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network (www.spauldingnetwork.org) and is affiliated with Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals.