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Pioneering Sustainable Initiatives in Hospitals; Reform on Our Side?

3p Contributor | Thursday March 31st, 2011 | 4 Comments

how does a Bill become a Law?

By Julie Graham

We are now well on our way to sweeping changes in American Healthcare.   March 23rd marked the first anniversary of the date President Obama signed the Healthcare Reform Bill into Law.   The healthcare industry will need to respond to proposed changes under ObamaCare, which includes a reduction in Medicare reimbursements to American hospitals, of up to 30% per patient, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Already facing daily challenges to meet budgetary constraints,  hospitals often operate in the red.  Reductions in staffing have taken place, leaving little room to accommodate a significant reduction in funding.  Still, President Obama’s plans for healthcare reform, due to be fully implemented by 2014, may be the impetus required to drive sustainable practices into the operational processes of American Hospitals. 

Meanwhile, the cost-saving and quality enhancing externalities of sustainable practices are starting to be realized within the healthcare industry.  Beginning in 2002, Virginia Mason Hospital, (Seattle, Wa.), pioneered the in-hospital implementation of the Lean Operations framework, which was popularized by Toyota in the early 1980s to streamline automobile production.  This framework has since been adopted by the Memorial Care Network, a network of five hospitals, in Southern California.  By standardizing in-house processes and flow, and reducing inventory, the Lean Process initiative has already led to significant operational cost savings and waste reduction to the Memorial Care  Network  since it was adopted in 2009.  In an article from Smart Business Orange County | July 2010,  by focusing on the Lean foundation of continuous improvement, the Memorial Care Network announced an anticipated 17 million dollars in savings over three years.

In the fall of 2010, the American Hospital Association (AHA), the national organization that represents and advocates for thousands of hospitals and health related facilities nationwide, released it’s “Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals” .  The AHA supports sustainable initiatives in hospitals  and has incorporated sustainability into it’s 2011-2013 strategic plan.

Next week (April 5th-8th), many of the leading members of the healthcare community, pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, and environmental groups will be convening in Phoenix, Arizona, for the premier conference on sustainable healthcare, Cleanmed 2011 .   This event, sponsored by the international organization, Healthcare Without Harm, promises to highlight innovative strategies and state of the art technologies to facilitate implementation of sustainable practices into this resource intensive industry.  Triplepundit will be in Phoenix, covering the event.  Watch for our upcoming series of articles, reporting on the spurring dynamic potential of Sustainability and Healthcare.   As Victor Hugo so eloquently stated, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea who’s time has come”.

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Julie Graham is a guest author and Registered Nurse from southern California, pursuing her Master of Public Administration in Sustainable Management at Presidio Graduate School, in San Francisco.


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  • Jenny S

    Interesting report. Looking forward to hearing more from the conference.

  • Eric P.

    As someone in a family filled with doctors I’m proud to know that people are connecting sustainability and hospitals. Patient care is in danger if costs cannot be brought down and energy efficiency and efforts like LEAN are so crucial to protecting people’s health and well being! Thank you Julie for your work!

  • Madam Energy

    Hospitals have so many opportunities to cut costs through energy efficiency. I’ve worked with multiple hospitals that reduce their overhead significantly through efficiency upgrades since most equipment is operated 24/7. Everything from lighting, HVAC, water pumping, climate control, and more can realize energy cost savings pretty quickly (normally with a simple pay back of under 7 years). To push more hospitals in the direction of sustainability is tough but an absolute necessity to patient care.

    • Julie Graham

      Madame Energy, thank you so much for expanding on some of the opportunities hospitals have to reduce energy consumption. As one of the most perhaps the most) regulated of all industries, hospitals look to regulatory bodies and accepted officials to guide such changes. This is why it is so exciting that the AHA is offering the Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals. I encourage you to check it out, as it outlines many funding opportunities that hospitals can use to implement alternative energy technologies and incentives for waste reduction.