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Anne's idea: How WellSpan team members are making their departments greener

Anne's idea: How WellSpan team members are making their departments greener

When Anne Thomas visits patients in their homes, the WellSpan physical therapist always places her equipment – a bag with items including a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff – on a blue paper pad, to keep the equipment clean. Sometimes she uses two pads during a visit. And she can make a half-dozen visits a day.

Consider this. Thomas is one of about 175 team members at WellSpan VNA Home Care, nurses, therapists, aides, and specialized caregivers who also use the blue pads during visits to patients' homes across the region.

That adds up to the use of a lot of blue paper pads: 82,500 in all a year, to be precise, according to the care program.

Thomas thought there had to be an environmentally better, more sustainable way. Turns out, she was right.

After a trial, the VNA recently began switching to a reusable, antimicrobial pad, at Thomas' recommendation. The new pad is larger, more durable, and can be cleaned between visits. It means a lot less waste for our communities at the end of a day, a month, a year, and into the future.

"That's less sheets going into a landfill," says Jonathan Herb, senior director of supply chain for WellSpan. "That also means we don't have to have a truck running back and forth, delivering cases of the pads. We don't have to have staff coming into the office to pick them up. It has a better impact on the environment. This is just one way we can find to treat our planet with more care."

Thomas had heard about the antimicrobial pads a number of years ago and they stuck in her head as a better method for keeping equipment clean. She actually shared her idea with Roxanna Gapstur, Ph.D., RN, WellSpan president and CEO, after Gapstur asked team members, "Where do you see opportunities to make sustainable changes? How can we work differently to conserve resources and reduce waste?"

Thomas noted, "When we were asked if there was anything we could offer that was more sustainable and less wasteful, it was like, bingo! I could use one of these versus 10 to 12 of the disposable ones in a day."

Thomas' suggestion is just one way that WellSpan teams are working to become more sustainable. And WellSpan is inviting and welcoming other ideas from team members across the system.

The U.S. healthcare industry is a major contributor to rising greenhouse gas emissions, which is a key factor in global warming. This is due to its extensive use of energy, spending an estimated $8.3 billion on a year industrywide. The health care industry also often has the highest level of water use in a community and generates about 5.9 million tons of waste per year industrywide.

WellSpan has embarked on sweeping changes to its operations to improve the health of its patients and of the planet. It has established an Office of Sustainability Services; is working on a comprehensive strategy to guide its actions that impact the environment; started discussions to procure more locally sourced food and supplies; and signed two sustainability pledges, which include a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.

It also has formed a systemwide oversight group to focus on sustainability in three areas: purchasing, energy, and operating rooms.

With regard to sustainable purchasing, WellSpan is seeking to reduce its environmental impact while strengthening the local economy.

"We are taking deliberate steps to diversify our supply chain. A healthy local economy leads to a healthier population. As a great example of this, we have been moving away from some of our national food contracts and increasing our reliance on local farmers and food companies to ensure we offer ingredients with superior nutritional value and better taste to WellSpan team members, patients, and their families," said Keith Noll, WellSpan senior vice president and chief administrative officer. "We are also considering factors such as diversity in ownership and sustainable production criteria when evaluating purchasing decisions for any good or service."

The work goes on across the system every day, inspiring people like Claudia Rodriguez, the business manager for VNA, who oversaw the investigation into Thomas' suggestion. She says that there likely will be a small cost savings to the switch to the antimicrobial pad, though some team members will still use the paper pads when they are doing wound care. But the overall impact is more environmental than financial.

"Our leadership is very excited about this," Rodriguez said. "More than the money, it's a lot of waste. I love this. It's great that people are practical and can be good about not wasting as much. I like that Anne had the initiative to suggest this.

"Sometimes we don't see things. I'm not in the field. We need to hear from staff who actually do the jobs to give us ideas. How can we do things better? How can we improve processes? Let us know."

For more on WellSpan's sustainability efforts, go here.