How to Achieve Sustainability in Healthcare

a hospital at night

Arguably, the healthcare industry is the most critical in the world. Others are significant, but the ability for those industries to even exist relies on the healthcare industry doing their job and taking care of people, not to mention the whole protecting and saving lives part.

Because healthcare is such a globally vast industry, medical waste is responsible for a large portion of the polluted and endangered environment that we’re facing today. Energy waste is the same.

Emitting pollution into the air, allowing harmful chemicals and fluids to seep into our soil, and using unnecessary amounts of electricity just to avoid investing in energy-efficient equipment are not doing anyone any favors. Most hospitals want to change this as much as the general public wants them to.

Updating and renovating hospitals costs unimaginable amounts of money. Administrators have held off in places where they could get away with it to save money and serve the areas that their budget could reach, usually involving keeping patient equipment up to date and maintained. However, we’ve come to a point where putting it off is no longer an option.

The Importance of Sustainability in Healthcare

Can you think of one industry or area where the word “sustainability” isn’t a top priority right now? It’s a buzzword like none other because of the times we live in today.

Even though every industry is on its way to going green, not many, if any, face the kind of obstacles the healthcare industry must handle. Things like working within budget parameters, organizational procedures, and a less-than-excellent state of infrastructure are no stranger to many business owners. However, facing those challenges while healing and saving human lives? Yeah, that changes the game–a lot.

Creating sustainability is no light venture. It requires a thorough and honest evaluation of current organizational procedures, problems, and infrastructure. Beyond that, the healthcare industry specifically cannot take any chances with the engineering systems or equipment that they use. They have to use resources that have been proven, proven and proven again to be reliable and safe. Throw in budget constraints and facility accreditation processes, and what presents itself is a vast and complicated situation.

The health and safety industries are entirely aware of the imminent and urgent push towards sustainability, so massive strides are being made.

Budget’s Role to Play

Every business owner and the business itself must work within a budget to be successful. For hospitals, that usually means having to sacrifice one thing for another. When assessing what hospitals consider a priority as far as budgeting is concerned, the first thing that comes to mind is the medical health and safety of patients and employees. That leaves preventative maintenance, infrastructure repairs, HVAC systems, and other areas to be put on the back burner.

Let’s say that the hospital can afford to update their medical systems and equipment or invest in future cost savings by updating the HVAC system to an energy-efficient type. Although the hospital could save $500,000 every year after the HVAC update, in the short term, they must use what money they have to make sure their medical systems and equipment are in pristine condition. So, that’s the decision they make, and no one can blame them.

At some point, these types of changes will have to occur. The concept of how to go about it will be different for every hospital.

Related: Sterilis Solutions System for Hospitals

Going Green in the Healthcare Industry

Reducing the energy use of hospitals and professional medical offices is the path forward for the healthcare industry. Healthcare aims to improve the patient’s experience of care, improve the population’s health, and reduce per capita cost of care. It may sound like a leap, but in reality, having the facility on an energy-efficient power plan can accomplish all three of the goals.

How?

As with most problems, the best place to start is to evaluate the current energy standing. If there are any repairs or updates that have been put off for budget reasons, that’s where the hospital will choose to start. From there, making a complete assessment of the facility’s future energy needs will be possible.

Whichever energy company the hospital chooses to implement its strategic energy plan will be able to evaluate the building structure, temperature patterns, and system capabilities to understand how to undergo the switch best.

Once the energy-efficient technology is in place, it will be able to monitor energy usage so that adjustments can be made to lower waste and cost. These cost-saving methods will allow the hospital to put more funding into patients, the care experience, and the population.

The Environment and Human Health

As mentioned above, there are many tons of healthcare waste dumped into landfills every year. About 15% of that waste is hazardous. That includes:

  • Sharps: disposable scalpels, blades, needles, syringes
  • Chemicals: heavy metals in medical devices, sterilants, and disinfectants
  • Infectious waste: blood, bodily fluids
  • Pharmaceutical: unused drugs, including expired and contaminated drugs
  • Pathological: tissues, organs, body parts
  • Cytotoxic: cytotoxic medicines used to treat cancer
  • Non-hazardous: general garbage

It’s easy to see the blatant hazard of having these things at our waste disposal sites. Sharp objects can injure and infect people or animals, drugs seeping into the soil, air pollution from medical waste incineration, radiation burns, and even chemical burns from using some of the powerful products are all possible health risks involved.

The impact on the environment from these practices are immense:

  • Contaminated drinking, ground, and surface waters
  • Chemical disinfectants used for waste management seeping into the environment
  • Improperly incinerated medical waste releasing dioxins and furans–known carcinogens

For all of these reasons and more, alternative and sustainable waste management practices must be adopted.

A hospital hallway

Addressing Waste

Saving the planet will most likely not be the first reason that a hospital is willing to take a look at their waste disposal procedures. But, isn’t population health one of the industry’s three primary missions? The irony of harming the planet and, by default, the population all in the name of trying to heal patients is not lost on many hospital owners and administrators. They genuinely want to take action on this issue.

Unnecessary waste and irresponsible waste disposal are both cost-ineffective and non-sustainable. In many places, hazardous and non-hazardous waste can be mixed. That’s an extremely unwise practice because that means sharp objects like needles and scalpels, containers of bodily fluids, and other hazardous substances can be thrown away in the kitchen garbage to go out to the dumpster with all of the other regular trash. That’s not exactly safe!

Those objects end up somewhere in a landfill or garbage dump with a vast possibility of coming in contact with another person and a 100% chance of contaminating the soil. On the flip side, some health centers burn the garbage. That’s exceptionally terrible as far as the atmosphere is concerned.

The first and best way to stop the leak is for hospitals and clinics to take a severe and unified approach to reduce excess waste in all areas: less trash, fewer problems. Next, creating significant awareness about proper waste management and disposal will give hospitals the tools they need to continue to educate and spread awareness on the issue. Teaching medical professionals the techniques of responsible disposal along with the dangers of improper disposal will help them work towards a more sustainable mode of operation.

At this point in our climate crisis, it’s past time to look into alternative waste disposal methods. The best out there today in Sterilis Solutions. They’re the only device that indemnifies medical waste into sterile confetti in under an hour.

Want to know more about alternative waste disposal methods in the healthcare industry? Make sure to visit Sterilis Solutions to learn more. 

Taking Toxic Chemical Out of the Equation

Another action that’s considered “green” but is tied directly to healthcare’s Three Aims is eliminating the use of toxic chemicals as much as humanly possible. It’s probably impossible for one person to list the infinite number of products that have been discovered to be dangerous, toxic, or even fatal in recent history. Everything from fabrics (linens, etc.), construction material, paint, and even furniture had poisonous chemicals in the past. Some of those things still do, like toxic flame retardants. 

A hospital, at its very essence, is supposed to be a place of healing. Lead paint doesn’t exactly fit that mold. Hospitals, medical facilities, and the general public have pushed for change from the companies that make these harmful products, and they’ve been admirably successful in their accomplishments. One of the most recent examples of these victories was the successful push to get furniture manufacturers to stop putting harmful flame retardants on their material. The demand was so strong that the percentage of companies who produced furniture without the chemicals doubled just the next year, and that was back in 2016!

Related: Sterilis Solutions System for Harm Reduction

Community

Hospitals are considered to be safe and secure pillars of the community. If the hospital struggles, then the community struggles, and the locals struggle. Because of their three missions, health care organizations’ actions are in a significant spotlight. They have a responsibility to protect the health and wellness of the staff, patients, and community, and having a robust sustainability program is a vital part of that. Even though the healthcare industry faces many challenges, they have to reduce their carbon footprint, prevent chemical contamination within the environment, and conserve resources.

Having a robust recycling program can play a massive part in creating sustainability. The waste must be separated and treated according to stringent regulations. If the rules are not followed, it can wreak havoc on the local waste disposal program, but that’s why education and training are essential! Having clear and specific waste stream procedures is paramount to keeping a hospital-sized recycling program going. 

The consumer demand for sustainability will only increase over time, so the community will be on board!

a stethoscope

The Path Forward

The current problems have been very clearly established, but what about moving forward? From start to finish, the switch to a green, sustainable system is immense, but the huge shift comes from a million tiny changes like:

  • Budget preparations
  • Evaluation of current and future energy and waste needs
  • Using safe and eco-friendly products and chemicals
  • Investment in an advanced waste disposal system
  • Having a meticulous recycling program
  • Upgrading to energy-efficient equipment

Hospitals and other medical facilities must first and foremost decide to commit to the long-term project. Being willing and open is the first and most crucial step. Having support from the local community is another excellent way to gain forward momentum in sustainability. Locals can tell you what problems they see and what solutions they want, which is important. 

Lastly, government dedication and support for overall, long-term improvement is necessary. While action can and should be taken locally, the vastness of a hospital’s operation requires outside funding to some extent. Locals can also get involved by staying aware of and informed about happenings in the healthcare industry. Staying in contact with local, state, and federal government can really help advocate for the local hospital in your town.

 Related: Sterilis Solution State Regulations Page

Conclusion

All of this information points to one conclusion: action must be taken. Waste disposal systems are the perfect place to start because their effects are so far-reaching.

The Sterilis Solutions System is a new device that can be used on-site to remediate regulated medical waste (hazardous waste) into harmless scraps that can be safely tossed in the regular (non-hazardous) trash. It completely sterilizes the waste, reducing patient and employee risk nearly instantly. The Sterilis Solution System reduces regulatory liability and entirely eliminates paper reporting. It’s hard to be sure how you can get more cost-effective or energy-efficient than that! 

With this device, hospitals get:

  • A mouse-quiet operating noise
  • Portability-can be moved anywhere
  • Under 60 minute cycle time
  • User-friendly interface
  • Automatically logged and stored compliance data

A lot of problems will be solved with this device. Sterilis Solutions understands that efficiency, reliability, and safety are necessary for sustainability in healthcare, and they’ve created a cost and energy-efficient, portable, and sterilizing device to meet those needs. Make sure to contact Sterilis Solutions to get all of your questions answered today.

Want to learn how the Sterilis Solutions System sterilizes and shreds medical waste to harmless confetti? Learn how it works here.

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