Creating Greener, Safer Workplaces with Practice Greenhealth’s Anna Gilmore Hall
August 1, 2011
Anna Gilmore Hall is described as a “nursing luminary,” and rightly so, as she splits time as the editor of Greenhealth Magazine and as the Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth. But, first and foremost, Gilmore Hall identifies herself as a nurse, which she says is an important title that recognizes the link between health and the environment.
Practice Greenhealth is a nonprofit member organization that works to find environmental solutions for the healthcare sector, creating greener, safer workplaces along the way. The nonprofit deals with everything from green-building solutions and sustainable business practices, to responsible end-of-life policies for medical supplies and products. The group currently has approximately 1,100 hospital members.
“Not only do we as healthcare providers need to heal our individual patients, but also the environment and the communities that we are serving,” Gilmore Hall says. “We also know that the healthcare sector is facing a rising disease burden. Over the last 15 years, science is implicating environmental threats to health as becoming impossible to ignore.”
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have Anna Gilmore Hall with us today. She’s a nursing luminary, the editor of Greenhealth Magazine, and also the Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth. Welcome to Green is Good, Anna.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Well, thank you. I am delighted to here.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Anna, we have so many wonderful guests, and what we’ve learned along the way here in the years of Mike and I doing this show is that we typically don’t like to read their bios ourselves. We want first, before we get into the great organization that you’re the Executive Director of, Practice Greenhealth, we want you to share a little bit of your bio yourself, your journey. How did you even get to where you are today? You’ve got so many titles after your name, and you do so many great things with regards to the green revolution and the sustainability movement. I would like you to share first how you came to be where you are.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Well, thanks. I’m really happy to tell you a little bit about me. I am a nurse, which I think is really important to this conversation because as a nurse, I recognize the link between the health of the environment and the health of people. Before I came to Practice Greenhealth, I worked for the American Nurses Association as the Director of their Occupational Health and Safety program. I understood that link between exposures and pollutants that were impacting nurses in the workplace, and the fact that that was occurring as a side effect, if you will, speaking as a nurse, of exposures to toxic chemicals, pesticides, and cleaning products in hospitals. If I, as a nurse, could prevent that exposure to fellow nurses, then I could actually improve the health of nurses in the workplace. I came at this, frankly, not from a sustainability point of view, but from an occupational health and safety point of view and from a nursing point of view and from a health point of view. Now that I’m Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth, I have the honor of working with physicians, nurses, and the entire healthcare sector around what we can do to improve the health and the environmental impact that the healthcare sector is doing because it’s the right thing to do for patients, it’s the right thing to do for the staff who work in hospitals, and it’s the right thing to do for the community we serve because it impacts the environment that we all live in.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there, if you have your laptop, your desktop, your iPad open, go to their wonderful website. Mike and I are on it right now. It’s www.practicegreenhealth.org. Please share with our listeners out there that don’t have their electronics open in front of them, tell us a little bit about Practice Greenhealth and the movement for ecologically sustainable practices in the healthcare industry.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: I’d be delighted. Practice Greenhealth is a membership organization, and we’re working with hospitals around the country on becoming more sustainable. We work with them around the design and construction of buildings up through and including the products that they purchase, how we provide greener cleaner, practices within hospitals, and then how do we properly dispose of things at the end of their life so that we are reducing the environmental impact and the footprint of the healthcare sector? We are composed of primarily hospitals. We have about 20% of the healthcare sector who are members of Practice Greenhealth. We have over 1,100 hospital members. We also work with healthcare providers, architects and engineers, and design firms strictly around greening hospital buildings. Manufacturers, service providers, and businesses that are committed to providing sustainable products to healthcare can also become members of Practice Greenhealth. Our job is to motivate, engage, and educate the healthcare organizations to reduce their environmental impact at their operations in their buildings. We’ve been very excited to partner with a variety of other groups, like Healthcare Without Harm and several other organizations to launch the Healthcare Hospital Initiative, where we’re actually working together as an entire sector to green the healthcare sector, but also leverage what we’re doing in healthcare to impact other segments of society and other industries as well.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re the leader and you’ve had a fascinating journey, as you shared earlier. It ends up that you’re now the Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth. From your position where you sit, tell us the compelling reason, why is it so important for the healthcare sector to lead the way in ecological sustainability?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: There’s a couple of things. I think one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the next few decades is to heal the relationship between the industrial civilization we live in and an environment that sustains us. In this context, the role of healthcare needs to be transformed and enlarged. Not only do we, as healthcare providers, need to heal our individual patients, but also the environment and the communities that we are serving. We also know that we are, as a healthcare sector, facing a rising disease burden. Over the last 15 years, science is implicating environmental threats to health as becoming impossible to ignore. The evidence linking toxic chemical exposures to learning disabilities, cancer, asthma, Parkinson’s disease, endometriosis, and a variety of other conditions, that evidence is getting stronger every day. We know that the obesity-related diseases that we are facing every day is increasing, and it’s being clear now that this is occurring not as a result of poor individual food choices, but rather the consequence of a failed industrial food system. As we, as the healthcare sector, are faced with this rising disease burden and we are faced with having to take care of all of these patients and see a change in the kinds of healthcare practices that we’re engaging in, we have to do what we can to reduce our environmental footprint because we are the recipient of some of the problems of environmental exposures and climate change. Unfortunately, we’re also part of the problem. The healthcare sector, while it’s certainly not a leading polluter of the atmosphere, we do have a significant carbon footprint. We are a major industrial enterprise, and we suffer all of the same contradictions of a system powered by fossil fuels and toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, we’re a significant source of pollution and related public health impacts because of our industry. Let me just give you a slight picture of what the healthcare footprint looks like. In healthcare right now, we’re usually one of the top employers in a community. We are one of the largest users of energy and one of the largest users of water in a community that we operate. We’re 17% of the gross domestic product, and just hospitals are about 10% of the gross domestic product. We are a huge producer of waste. We generate about 2 million pounds of waste per day in the healthcare sector. So when you think about the fact that as the healthcare sector, we are going to be dealing with all the consequences of pollution and climate change, at the same time we’re contributors to this problem. We’ve really got to step up to the plate and become leaders and advocates for turning this conversation around climate change and contamination of the environment away from some of the previous messages, to one of health. This is all about the health of people, and it’s not just about the health of our children and our grandchildren. It’s about the health of people today.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That makes so much sense. When we were off the air earlier, you were sharing with Mike and I truly how many sectors of this whole sustainability movement you touch, given the life of a hospital and of the healthcare industry. Can you share with our listeners some of the resources that you do provide, like give specific examples to the healthcare sector and how you help them accomplish their goals?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: I’d love to. As you just pointed out, we use a lot of products. We buy a lot of things, and so what we’re trying to do is to help hospitals green their supply chain, to buy environmentally preferable products, and to properly dispose of them at the end of their life cycle. We provide tools, resources, and education to our members. We are engaged in a healthier renewable energy initiative where hospital members can work with us to obtain funding to build or remodel their facilities, create high performance, high healing, environments that are safer for patients, safer for staff, and safer for the communities that they serve. We offer strategy development, consultation and assessments, so that they can actually establish some goals, whether it’s around energy, waste, water, EPP, whatever, and then we provide them the tools and resources to help them accomplish their goals. Healthcare in a community has the unique opportunity to leverage the purchasing power that they have because we do buy so many things, whether it’s food, a chair, an MRI, CT scan. There’s lots of products that we use. We’re a huge consumer of resources. So if we can leverage what we’re doing and what we’re buying to provide better products, we can actually influence the market. That’s really what we’re trying to do. We’d like to leverage the healthcare sector and the purchasing part of the healthcare sector to actually drive markets towards more sustainable products.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Talk a little bit about the Green Guide for Healthcare that you provide, and what that does for your clients and for your constituency.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: The Green Guide for Healthcare provides online resources, web-based forms, and educational offerings for hospitals around their buildings. We’ve just done a new pilot around operations. It provides tools and resources to actually help them around their operations in hospitals. When I say operations, I’m talking about purchasing food, purchasing products, looking at waste reduction, more energy efficiency, water reduction, that sort of thing. The Green Guide is also, just some background information for you. The foundation document for LEED for healthcare was just released by the United States Green Building Council, so we actually anticipate more hospitals getting involved in greening their buildings and their operations as a result of the release of LEED for healthcare.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: If you just joined us now, Mike and I are so honored to have Anna Gilmore Hall on with us. She’s the Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth, and we’re talking about Practice Greenhealth and sustainability in the healthcare industry. We’re also on Anna’s great website, www.practicegreenhealth.org. Anna, what’s CleanMed? What’s that annual conference that you guys put on, and why is that so important?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: We do an annual conference, which is called CleanMed. It’s coming up, actually, in Denver on April 30, 2012, and that is a great opportunity where healthcare professionals can come together from around the world, actually, to hear best practices, to keep up on current trends. It’s a place to connect with leaders in healthcare sustainability. We have everyone there, the CEOs of hospitals are there as well as environmental service people. Green teams are there. We have the opportunity to bring together hospitals and businesses in forums and opportunities to share best practices, to talk about environmental preferable purchasing, and to engage with suppliers around improving their products. We have been doing this now for several years. We’ve actually done some internationally as well. What we have learned is this is a great place for people to come and learn, whether you’re just getting started on your journey or if you’re very well along your journey and are sort of setting the trends for other organizations. So there’s a place for everyone. If you’re interested in sustainability and you’re interested in how to help the healthcare sector become more sustainable, join us at CleanMed on April 30 in Denver, Colorado.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Again, that’s for both the hospitals themselves and the healthcare industry and for the resources that serve them.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: That’s correct. Businesses, suppliers, manufacturers, group purchasing organizations. Usually we have representatives of all of those groups at CleanMed, and it’s just probably the one unique place in the country where you can bring all of those groups together to talk about how we can continue to build momentum for sustainability in healthcare.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: You expect hundreds or thousands at these kind of events?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Hundreds. We’re not thousands yet.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great. Talk a little bit about the fascinating area of the hospital that hopefully our listeners can stay out of in the future, but we all end up, in one way, shape, or form always touching, the operating room. How is Practice Greenhealth greening the operating rooms across America?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Well, just in the spirit of full disclosure, I used to be an OR nurse when I was a practicing nurse, and so the operating room is critical to a hospital’s success, and frankly, to its business model. It brings in between 40-60% of a hospital’s revenue, and sometimes up to about 60% of its operating margin. So whatever we can do to help the OR become greener and save money is really helpful to the hospital’s bottom line. The operating room is also a huge producer of waste, and is a huge consumer of energy and water and is many times an epicenter in a hospital. If you go to the website of a hospital, nine times out of 10 one of things that they will highlight is their OR on the front page of their website. So, whatever we can do to actually help hospitals cut costs in the OR while reducing their environmental footprint has a ripple effect across the hospital. Practice Greenhealth has identified eight interventions that we can work with hospitals around in their OR that will reduce their environmental footprint, save them water, reduce the amount of waste, and in nine times out of 10 can actually save them significant funds. The cost savings that we can generate in the operating room is significant and very important for the health of a hospital.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Again, when we talk about sustainability, and Mike and I always focus on this and so do our guests, people, planet, and profits. By greening the healthcare industry, you’re not just going in and saying, “Hey, we’re going to make you more green, more sustainable, more ecologically friendly,” but also you’re showing them how this is better for their bottom line.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Absolutely. We have to have a business case for what we’re doing because the profit margins in hospitals is so narrow. Our hope is that by helping hospitals save money and reducing their carbon footprint and reducing the waste that we see in hospitals, we can actually help hospitals generate funds that could be used for better patient care, hiring more nurses, better use of those cost savings for things other than waste and energy inefficiencies. Much of the work that we do is really focused on trying to help hospitals save money and helping them use that money towards safer patient care.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so interesting. We talked a little bit about your conference, CleanMed, which is coming up April 30, 2012, and it marries your client base and healthcare providers across America with their resources. Talk a little bit about the businesses and the resources that supply the healthcare industry. Do you also service them? Do you also create programs for them?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: We do. We’ve seen a tremendous increase from businesses that supply the healthcare sector, and so we’re doing a variety of things to provide support for them. Many times, businesses that are providing products to hospitals, in addition to that, are also interested in greening their own operations and helping identify ways that they can make their products more sustainable. So we work with those businesses in helping them become greener themselves, as well as leveraging what we’re doing with hospitals to encourage them to provide better, safer, less toxic products to the healthcare sector. So, we’ve launched an initiative called Greening the Supply Chain, which, if you can think about it, is an essential element for any healthcare facility embarking on a journey towards sustainable healthcare. If you have green products and less products coming in the front door, you have less waste and less problems going out the back door. Hospitals that work with businesses are being pretty clear with them, I think, that this is a direction that they want to go. I’m pleased to say that our business partners are responding. Many of the products that we are working with them around in healthcare environment actually are starting to use less chemicals and are trying to be more energy efficient. So, we’ve been very pleased to be able to do that. We have the opportunity, also, to work with group purchasing organizations that work with all hospitals around their purchasing decisions and providing assistance to them about how to actually write specifications for the contracts that they’re doing on behalf of hospitals, again, trying to support them in buying EPT products.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Mike and I are looking at your website and some of the latest things. It’s a great website. Again, for our listeners, www.practicegreenhealth.org. One of the latest news stories coming in, Practice Greenhealth and Citi launch the Healthcare Renewable Energy Initiative. Can you just quickly share with our listeners what does that mean? I just want our listeners to understand how you touch so many areas and how you get to influence the greening of our environment in so many ways.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: I’d be delighted. Practice Greenhealth helps hospitals reduce energy consumption and become more energy efficient through a variety of tools, but one of the things that has happened is as hospitals are interested in increasing their energy efficiency and reducing their energy consumption, they’re also interested in trying to buy greener energy, whether it’s solar, wind, and other sources. One of the challenges they’ve had is getting startup capital to do that. In partnership with Citigroup, we’ve launched the Healthcare Renewable Energy Initiative, which allows hospitals and Citi and other partners to enter into purchase agreements that would actually help hospitals buy greener energy. We’ve done some work in California. We’re doing some work in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and we’ll be expanding the program to other states. This is a great opportunity where we can actually help hospitals do what they want to do in the first place, contribute to a clean and sustainable environment by purchasing renewable energy, and doing it at a rate that will actually save them money over time.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: What Mike and I are hearing here, and I’m sure our listeners are getting this now, the purchasing power of the hospitals put them at a critical and important stewardship position. You’re helping them make better choices and helping them find the best resources with regards to their purchasing power.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: That’s exactly right, and also we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. It’s good for people. It’s good for the health of the patients and communities that we serve.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re doing so many amazing things and touching so many sectors, and you’re always welcome to come back, of course, to Green is Good because there are so many stories that we could cover with you and so many sectors of the sustainability world. Talk about some of the other success Practice Greenhealth is achieving and what’s on the horizon for the rest of 2011 and 2012?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: There are a couple of things I’d like to point out. One of the things that we have been very happy that our hospitals are doing is starting to look at locally sourced organic food in hospitals and partnering with local farmers and having gardens on the property and having farmers come to the hospitals for farmers’ markets. This has been a great opportunity, frankly, to increase the quality of the food in hospitals, but also to provide an opportunity for staff and patients to get locally sourced organic food in their hospital cafeteria, but also in the parking lot so that you can buy your tomatoes and take them home when you leave work. We’ve been very excited about that because this is a community benefit program that I think is critical to the work that we’re doing. Food is so essential to all of us, obviously, but helping people learn about better sustainable food is really an important program and something that we’re seeing hospitals really embrace and run with. We’re very excited about that.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: It sounds better than Jell-O to me. We’re down to the last minute or so. We love solutions here. Mike and I love sharing with our listeners solutions. Do you have any additional resources or supply organizations that you could share with our listeners as we get ready to sign off here and call it a day?
ANNA GILMORE HALL: There are a couple of things. One of our partner organizations, Healthcare Without Harm, is a resource that’s very useful to the NGO community and nonprofit organizations. We’ve already talked about the Green Guide. The Healthier Hospital Initiative represents a strong base of systems that are working with us to really build momentum for the healthcare sector, and we’re providing tools and resources for any hospital that wants to enroll in that. As nurses and physicians, we also provide tools and resources to use, so that you can understand how you can make sustainability part of your practice. If you go to our website or to the Healthcare Without Harm website, there are actual resources available to individual clinicians, whether you’re a surgeon interested in the greening of the OR, or you’re a nurse interested in working in a public health situation or a school nurse interested in working in schools. We’re interested in working with everyone in the healthcare field, whether you’re a hospital, a business, a nurse, long-term care or a business. If you’re interested in sustainability and healthcare, check us out. We’re happy to help you in meeting your goals around sustainable healthcare.
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Anna, we’re happy to have you back at Green is Good any time you want to come. Your important story is so important to share with all of our listeners, both here in the United States and, actually, around the world. Your work is really to be commended. For our listeners out there, again, one more time, go learn more about what Anna’s doing and get involved. www.practicegreenhealth.org. Anna Gilmore Hall, you’re an inspirational sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good.
ANNA GILMORE HALL: Thank you, John. I was delighted to be here.