It's no secret that hospitals produce a lot of waste with the worst offender being the surgery department. For the Lakewood Health System Hospital in Staples, Minn., going green means more than just tossing a few extra bottles in recycling; it's engrained into everyday life.
"The community plays a big role in our being green, since we're out in the middle of nowhere in a farming community," says Audrey Witucki, LPN, CST, an active member of the hospital's "Go Green" committee. "We don't want to waste the hot water, we want to minimize the garbage and help preserve the farmland out here. After all, the farmers are our patients."
This year's OR Excellence Award Winner for Environmental Stewardship takes the commitment to the planet seriously, by reducing, reusing and recycling wherever it can.
"All of the waste will never be eliminated," says Ms. Witucki. "But, a healthcare facility that 'thinks green' can greatly decrease the amount of trash that is generated, save money by investing in reusable and reprocessed supplies, and become an organization that leaves a positive environmental footprint in the community."
Cutting back on disposables
Cutting back on the amount of garbage the surgery department produces is one of the top ways Lakewood helps the surrounding environment. One of the initiatives the 25-bed hospital employs to go green while saving green is a thorough reprocessing program for single-use devices.
According to Ms. Witucki, the hospital tries to reprocess as many single-use items as it can. This includes devices like trocars, arthroscopic shavers and burrs, saw blades, laparoscopic instruments, manifolds, tourniquets, sequential compression devices and more. "If the company will take it, we send it," she says.
While some may hesitate at the thought of reprocessed SUDs, Ms. Witucki says it's all about finding the right fit for your facility. When the hospital recently switched reprocessing companies, Ms. Witucki says they first asked the new company to come in and explain, in detail, how their operation worked and what their standards were. That helped ease everyone's mind, she says. "They have a policy that if you get a reprocessed item back and it fails, the company takes responsibility for that product," she says. "That was comforting to know."
While the program helps keep disposable tools out of landfills, there are significant financial benefits as well, says Ms. Witucki. She notes that since the hospital began reprocessing its fluid waste disposal system manifolds, they've saved almost $15,000 a year. Surgeons and staff are now on board with the idea of using more affordable products of equal quality instead of new, expensive ones. "If you're looking at the supplies side by side, it's like comparing apples to apples," she says. "You can't tell the difference."
While Lakewood does all of the usual when it comes to recycling sorting cardboard, plastic and paper the hospital also takes a few extra steps to ensure every eligible item is tossed into the recycling bin.
For example, Ms. Witucki says that while staff recycle the big, brown cardboard boxes supplies are shipped in standard for most facilities they also recycle the paperboard boxes that house the individual supplies, similar to tissue boxes.
Most of the time, after the supply is opened, the packaging is tossed into the garbage because many don't realize it's recyclable, says Ms. Witucki. "Many facilities just grab the box, open the supply and throw away all the packaging," she says. "We place the boxes aside, flatten them, and then they're collected with other recyclables. It only takes a minute to separate them out, and it saves several hundred bags of recyclables from going to the dump each year."
Lakewood also seeks out ways to recycle and cut down on its paper usage, says Ms. Witucki. The hospital uses electronic charting, and they recently switched their printers to default print on both sides. That move alone has saved 225 reams of paper a month, she says.
Plus, staff know to place any piece of paper without patient information even post-it notes in a designated bin that goes to recycling. "Our surgery department is excellent at collecting informational inserts and IFUs from boxed supplies, old preference cards, cardstock from DART (Daily Air Removal Test) tests and biological tests, and used count sheets," she says.
TRIA ORTHOPEDIC CENTER
Staff at the TRIA Orthopaedic Center in Bloomington, Minn., take being eco-friendly seriously. "Staff are very much committed to environmental stewardship," says Lori Groven, RN, BSN, MSPHN, CIC, an infection preventionist at the center. "They're the ones who pushed for a green committee."
That committee has been in charge of several programs aimed at helping their facility and community go green. One of those initiatives was to tackle blue wrap waste, says Ms. Groven, who serves as chair of the green committee. The facility first contacted a company that specializes in recycling the wrap, says Ms. Groven. But because that program takes some time to get up and running and the surgical staff wanted ways to immediately reduce disposal they turned to an out-of-the-box idea.
"Our sports outreach manager volunteers in Haiti, and told us that they would benefit from having the blue wrap included in their birthing kits, since typically the baby and surgical supplies are just laid on a dirt floor," says Ms. Groven. "So we now collect it, and then she takes it with her when she volunteers there."
The committee also works to engage staff and the community by hosting several green events throughout the year. One of those includes an annual park cleanup, where the committee organizes for approximately 40 staff members and their family to come out and beautify a local park one weekend. So far, Ms. Groven says the event has been a major success. "It's become really fun," she says.
Part of that fun is attributed to the cool swag volunteers earn, she says. Each year, the committee hands out T-shirts that are made from recycled soda bottles. A staff member at TRIA also screenprints unique designs on the "green" shirts using eco-friendly ink. The T-shirts are a source of pride for staff, says Ms. Groven. "They've become a bit of a collector's item since they're different every year," she says.
This year the green committee also held a special "Green Fair" on Earth Day. The event was open to patients and staff and featured organizations like a local bike-sharing company and a local farmers market. Green committee members also handed out bike maps and bus routes to visitors, and even had a bike on display to test out.
Participants at the Green Fair were also encouraged to bring their old tennis shoes, which were then donated to Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program. Every person who donated was entered into a raffle to win tickets to a "Dinner on the Farm" gala, which is a local event where participants get a tour of a farm, learn about sustainability and are served dinner using food from the farm. Overall, the committee ended up collecting more than 120 pairs of shoes, says Ms. Groven. "We're open to any and all ideas that let us give back and make things green in the community and in our center," she says.
Finding creative solutions
While reprocessing and recycling are common-sense solutions to help a facility go green, Lakewood has also found a couple of creative ways to limit its footprint on the environment.
For example, the hospital has a few tricks to tackle blue sterilization wrap. First, says Ms. Witucki, the hospital limited its use of the disposable wrap by purchasing casket-style sterilization containers, which now house about 90% of the surgery department's trays.
But for the blue wrap that is still around, Lakewood has found a way to use it to their staff and community's advantage. After a case is finished, any blue wrap is gathered and placed into large plastic bags. The bags are offered to staff for craft or home improvement projects first. "They're great for painting," notes Ms. Witucki.
The hospital's maintenance crew will also grab a few bags, which are used to cover the ground when they're working. Any leftover bags are donated to the community specifically a local animal shelter. "They use them to clean up puppy messes or to put in birdcages," says Ms. Witucki.
The hospital also has a unique way to save money and reduce electricity consumption that involves something usually reserved for plumbers or servicemen requiring surgical techs to become certified boiler operators.
According to Ms. Witucki, the idea came about when the hospital remodeled its sterile supply department and got a new washer and autoclave that required its own high-pressure boiler. Instead of having the boiler produce hot water all night, when no one was there, the hospital decided to program it to operate only during normal business hours.
But that posed a problem, says Ms. Witucki. There were times employees were called in for an overnight case, and they couldn't turn on the boiler in sterile processing without a professional. So the hospital had all of its surgical techs complete a state course and exam to earn their boiler operator licenses, allowing them to turn it on and off as needed. It's an unusual move, agrees Ms. Witucki, but it was essential for the eco-friendly facility.
"It wasn't the most interesting topic to study, by far, but it really helps us out," she says. "It's good in 2 ways we're helping the environment, and we're saving money."