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Healthier healthcare program grows to 837 hospitals

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), which was launched in 2010 by twelve hospital systems, is rapidly growing as healthcare organizations buy into the goals to boost sustainability, improve purchasing practices, and lower energy costs. "We currently have 837 hospitals enrolled, and more enrolling every week!" HHI's Sherry McDonald told Plastics Today.

More than one-quarter of the group's members are targeting safer chemicals. The focus on phthalate plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride has continued to expand, while a few also are questioning the safety of other plastics including polycarbonate.

The newest organization to support HHI is HealthTrust, a large healthcare purchasing group based in Brentwood, TN.

"HealthTrust has always been dedicated to ecological responsibility," said J. Michael Jones, director of Clinical Education and Sustainability. "One of the forerunners of our formal sustainability program is a longstanding commitment to the advancement of reprocessing and remanufacturing medical devices--an initiative with a significant effect on both the environmental impact and economic strength of our member facilities."

HHI is an offshoot of Practice Greenhealth and Healthcare Without Harm, a group started by Gary Cohen in1996 after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified medical waste incineration as the leading source of dioxin, a carcinogen. The group shifted its focus to mercury as hospital waste incineration collapsed under its own weight as economically unsustainable.

The mercury program was a huge win.

The market for mercury-based medical equipment in the United States has been virtually eliminated and mercury thermometers are banned in the European Union. A global treaty is now in place to end the manufacture, import and export of mercury-based medical devices by 2020.

In HHI, hospitals choose to participate in certain areas, such as heather food, and then begin submitting data so that their performance can be compared against other hospitals.  

The group's first milestone report was published in 2012.

"HHI is a multi-year campaign and our first Milestone Report shows movement toward delivering a more sustainable hospital environment," said Cohen, who is also the founder of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. "This report is a baseline from which we can move forward and continue to measure our future successes by encouraging hospitals to purchase more environmentally-preferable supplies, serve healthier foods, use less energy, reduce waste and more."

 Specific results included:

  • More than 50 million pounds of materials were recycled.
  • About $32 million in savings resulted from single-use medical device reprocessing.
  • Nearly $9 million was spent on local/sustainable food options.
  • Almost $19 million was spent on PVC/DEHP-free medical products.

Published case studies provide interesting examples of specific programs at several participating hospitals.

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