HEALTHCARE CONTRIBUTES TO COMMUNITY SUSTAINABILITY
ImpactNV brings together businesses, government, and non-profits to create collaborative projects that continually improve our community. As leading members of the Nevada healthcare community, Intermountain Healthcare works toward increasing the level of sustainability across our organization.
The quest for building a sustainable community starts by creating an overall healthy state of human well-being, which includes complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This requires addressing environmental aspects of the communities where we work by planning, building, and modifying programs, practices, and facilities to move toward sustainable living.
Understanding and addressing the social determinants of health is an increasingly important focus for all community-oriented organizations. Social determinants of health may include the social gradient, stress, early life, social exclusion, work, unemployment, social support, addiction, food, and transport. In an ideal sustainable community, the focus is on meeting everyone’s needs, making people feel safe, healthy, and, ultimately, happy. Sustainability, therefore, involves environmental and economic aspects, urban infrastructure, social equity, and municipal government.
Sustainability programs and healthcare programs have similar goals in that they are both intended to help provide all citizens with a long, improved quality of life. Additionally, sustainable societies require robust equitable healthcare programs to meet their goals. For a healthcare program to be successful, it must be affordable, accessible, staffed with sufficient personnel, and cover the widest possible variety of healthcare problems.
“The definitive factors in determining whether someone is in good health extend significantly beyond access to care and include the conditions in their life and the conditions of their neighborhoods and communities.”
— John Auerbach, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CREATING SUSTAINABLE HEALTHCARE FACILITIES
Sustainable practices enhance the provision of health care services in several ways, from reducing facilities’ environmental impact to leading efforts to address public health threats due to climate change. The program, operational, and financial models of a healthcare system must be designed to meet the clinical and social needs of the patients being served. To be truly sustainable, a healthcare facility must comprise three core aspects:
- Follow sustainable construction and management practices
- Design sustainable healthcare / care delivery processes
- Promote daily sustainable practices for caregivers
Reinventing healthcare facilities using a sustainable model begins by building facilities that exhibit three essential characteristics:
- Incorporate sustainable and natural materials
- Adequate lighting and ventilation
- Provide ready access to nature
As a mission-oriented organization, Intermountain Healthcare strives to make sustainability an ongoing priority. We work to ensure our operations are as efficient as they can be while minimizing any negative impact to our environment as much as possible.
Intermountain has taken a stance to proactively include steps during facility design and construction that will yield points for LEED certification. In addition, there are efforts being made to retrofit campuses, in particular exterior landscapes, to be more sustainable in our energy and resource consumption. Our facility designs would help enhance the quality of care while promoting patient and caregiver well-being.
REDUCING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
An essential component of sustainability for healthcare facilities is the reduction of our sector’s impact on the environment. A 2019 estimate places healthcare’s global carbon footprint at 4.4 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, whereas health expenditure accounts for some 10 percent of global economic output.
Pollution from healthcare directly damages human health with estimates suggesting that it causes a substantial burden of disease. The healthcare industry is among the most carbon-intensive service sectors in the industrialized world. It is responsible for 4.4-4.6 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and similar fractions of toxic air pollutants, largely stemming from fossil fuel combustion.
Clean air is critical to good health and well-being. Intermountain is investing resources to ensure we keep our air clean. We are committed to the decarbonization of our fleet vehicles as well as encouraging the use of alternative fueled vehicles by staff and community members. To support a transition towards cleaner fueled vehicles, in 2019 Intermountain Healthcare launched a project to install over 80 electric vehicles (EV) charging stations across our owned healthcare facilities. This project was completed in 2021. In our pursuit of clean air, we are also promoting ‘idle-free’ zones on our campuses.
Another example of an opportunity in healthcare to improve environmental sustainability is anesthesiology. Anesthesiologists are being encouraged to limit their use of desflurane, nitrous oxide, and other anesthetics that release high amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Describing the totality of a healthcare organization’s emissions can be done at the economy-wide or facility level. By contrast, accounting for emissions at the facility level where resource consumption occurs is essential for comparisons across healthcare organizations and for institution-specific interventions.
PROTOCOLS TO INCREASE SUSTAINABILITY
Community health workers (CHWs) need to follow clearly defined, evidence-based protocols to meet patient needs in a sustainable fashion. In turn, strong support systems are needed to support services provided by CHWs. Well-designed operational infrastructures, such as easy-to-follow care protocols, defined management structures, and user-friendly data systems, make it easier to serve patients.
CHW participation in primary care planning and strong bi-directional communication with clinical staff would strengthen alignment on programmatic, operational, and financial models.
To ensure the safe management of pharmaceuticals, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides information on the safe production, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, including new regulations that affect healthcare facilities and reverse distributors.
CONCLUSION: BIG PICTURE
The adage “Think globally and act locally,” provides solid guidance for leadership in healthcare who play an important role in shaping the future of this industry at a local level. To promote community well-being, leadership should embrace empathetic listening, a strong understanding of social determinants of health, awareness of local context and needs, and an understanding of our role in environmental sustainability.
Social/community health will continue to grow in importance and will become a requirement for health care organizations. While there is no single correct design for community sustainability initiatives, financial, operational, and programmatic systems would need to be designed to work in harmony with all key stakeholders. This will make healthcare organizations strong partners in a sustainable society.