Texas Does it Big

By Eric Johnson on May 13, 2016

Across the state, major health systems are making big moves—modeling how sustainability not only saves money, but is also the right thing to do.

THE LONE Star State is known for doing things big, and when it comes to implementing sustainability initiatives, Texas health care providers are no different. Presented with everything from environmental to cultural challenges, these systems have developed innovative solutions that are paving the way for others in the industry. These systems also serve as examples to the general public to show how doing the right thing can pay off in meaningful ways.

Dell Childrens Medical Center Lobby

A waiting area at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas (Courtesy of Dell Children’s Medical Center).

Seton Healthcare Family: Clean and Green

Michele Van Hyfte is manager of environmental stewardship for the Seton Healthcare Family, part of the Ascension Health system—the largest health care provider in central Texas. With 11 hospitals in the six counties around Austin, the Seton system serves nearly 60 counties with approximately 3.5 million square feet of facilities. “Seton Healthcare Family implements the mandatory Ascension Health Environmental Stewardship Program across all of our hospitals and in our administration offices,” Van Hyfte said. “The program addresses nine categories of sustainability, and the driving force behind those categories is to further our mission, improve patient care, be more environmentally friendly and reduce costs in all aspects of our operations.”

One of their biggest achievements has been in green cleaning. The entire family is now using GreenGuard-certified cleaning products and procedures. “When you look at an initiative like green cleaning, it checks off so many boxes and has a win-win-win argument. There really isn’t any other way to do it, so we are confident we are doing the right thing,” she said.

That confidence wasn’t immediate, however. “At times, there is a lot of talk and no action behind it,” Van Hyfte said of some green cleaning initiatives. “Or there is misinformation or there is a perception that something’s green, but when you do a little digging, you find out it’s not.”

But when Mike Madigan, vice president of operations for TouchPoint, Seton’s environmental services vendor, came to her with a line of cleaning products certified by GreenGuard, her skepticism turned to excitement. “In addition to the fact that the products were very green, the certification program follows through into procedures,” she said. “How are these products actually used and what kind of training needs to happen? Do we know the total life cycle cost of the products? Those are big questions.”

In this case, Madigan had her covered. Not only were the Diversey products used by TouchPoint green, Madigan made sure that everything from dispensers, to special microfiber mops, to training was handled. With that thoroughness, Seton was eager to commit, investing almost $1 million on microfiber washers and dryers to support the switchover from string mops. The results have been overwhelmingly positive. “Our carbon footprint is smaller because the products previously used were not green,” Madigan said. “Now we’re still achieving the same cleanliness readings we had previously with a smaller environmental impact.”

The transition didn’t happen overnight. “We did quite a bit of training with each associate, because the most important thing we do is provide safety for our patients and our associates,” he said. “That training was vital to ensure that as we leave the room, it’s sanitized.”

Van Hyfte keeps coming back to the idea of a win-win-win: a win from the economic perspective, from the patient perspective and from the environmental perspective. “In this case, green cleaning achieves the three principles of sustainability. It reduces the cost and energy and water use associated with cleaning procedures, and it reduces toxicity by removing irritants typically found in conventional cleaning products from the air. That’s good for our patients, their families and our associates,” she said. “It’s amazing how an initiative like this achieves so many of the objectives we’re striving for every day.”

And those objectives are passed through the rest of the Seton system. “Seton has a philosophy of knowledge sharing, particularly at Dell Children’s Medical Center, which is the only double LEED Platinum health care facility in the world,” she said. “We started from day one with the greenest expectations possible there, and now we’ve been able to leverage an expansion of these initiatives across the other 10 hospitals.”

Van Hyfte says Seton’s green-mindedness is aided by the environmentally progressive culture that is unique to Austin. “The city of Austin has been green for a lot longer than green has been cool,” she said. “There is a social expectation that if you’re going to do something, it needs to be green.”

Miriam Meyers at Seton Medical Center cleaning

Miriam Meyers, TouchPoint associate at Seton Medical Center Williamson, implements the award-winning green cleaning program in the cafeteria.

MEDCOM: Sustainable Medicine

While the U.S. Army Medical Command, or MEDCOM, has two headquarters, one in Falls Church, Virginia, and the other in San Antonio, Texas, its sustainability program is operated out of the San Antonio office.

According to Kathryn LaHaye, MEDCOM’s sustainability program manager, the facility has focused on implementing sustainability within its health care platform since 2008 and considers it a critical element to supporting the Army’s medical mission. “Innovation, standardization and conservation are necessary components to meeting the current and future needs of Army medicine,” she said.

Though MEDCOM’s San Antonio office directs sustainability efforts across the Army’s entire medical system, several of its facilities within Texas are far along the sustainability journey. At Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, for example, efforts have been made to green the dining facility, while the Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center at Ft. Hood is preparing to move into a new LEED-certified hospital in April 2016.

Plans for future sustainability initiatives include increasing the reprocessing of single-use devices, greening the ORs, increasing recycling rates, focusing on energy and water conservation through renovations, and new LEED facilities.

The dedication to sustainability doesn’t just manifest itself in programs, however. MEDCOM has made an investment in personnel as well. In addition to having a full-time environmental program manager, MEDCOM hired a full-time sustainability program manager in November 2014, and in July 2015, hired a full-time energy and water program manager. “Having dedicated individuals to oversee the program, MEDCOM will be able to start implementing a more structured program, taking and sharing best management practices and leveraging knowledge management and funding resources,” LaHaye said.

That kind of commitment pays off, she says, and others agree, even if not all hospitals have jumped onboard as quickly as they have. Though sustainability has decided advantages and tangible positive effects to both the environment and the bottom line, many health systems continue to shy away from implementing such initiatives. “Sometimes it’s making the mental leap of, ‘We’ve never really done this before,’” Seton’s Van Hyfte said. “But it can be done, you just have to be brave and go for it.”