By Mark Henricks
Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski’s job is taking care of the environment. So when the ecology program coordinator for Catholic Healthcare West learned of a set of green IT guidelines being promoted by the Center for Environmental Health, she was all over it.
“They were talking about things that were near and dear to our hearts, like purchasing, extending the lifespans of products and how we get rid of them,” says Leciejewski, whose San Francisco organization runs a non-profit network of 41 hospitals. “We felt this was something we could really stand behind.”
Last week, Catholic Healthcare West joined Kaiser Permanente, Broadlane and the Premier healthcare alliance in agreeing to follow the standards developed by the Center for Environmental Health. Like Catholic Healthcare West, Oakland-based Kaiser is one of the nation’s largest non-profit healthcare providers, with approximately three-dozen hospitals. Dallas-based Broadlane is a for-profit group purchasing organization for thousands of hospitals. For-profit Premier provides clinical and financial data services to 2,300 U.S. hospitals.
Like Catholic Healthcare West, CEH belongs to the international Health Care Without Harm coalition, an organization that advocates sustainable healthcare practices. The CEH standards focus on electronics purchasing and management. With regard to purchasing, the benchmark calls for purchasing products rated at least Bronze using the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, and preferably Gold or Silver. When it comes to energy efficiency, CEH asks buyers to purchase Energy Star-qualified products. The standards also call for purchasing products free of halogens, and they emphasize buying from manufacturers with takeback programs for both products and packaging.
Leciejewski said that virtually of the 6,500 PCs at Catholic Healthcare West’s facilities are EPEAT-rated Gold. She’d like to see the rest of the PCs brought up to the top standard. In addition, she says, they have begun initiatives to extend the life of IT products, with the aim of reducing the consumption of energy and materials required to manufacture new ones. “We are working to expand those so people can’t just go in and say, ‘I want a new computer,’” she says.
The standards also call for healthcare organizations to look for ways to cut energy using power management and energy efficiency technologies. Other elements address using recycling programs and asking vendors to develop products that have longer lifespans and are more easily upgradeable.
The CEH standards don’t address all possible green IT issues. For instance, they don’t set standards for using renewable energy sources. Leciejewski said Catholic Healthcare West is considering alternative energy sources, without making any decisions yet. “But that’s the next thing coming down the pike,” she notes.
CEH says its guidance is especially important because the federal stimulus bill provides $20 billion to promote electronic medical records systems. Partly as a result, most small and mid-sized hospitals plan to increase spending for these systems, the coalition says, so the time is ripe to integrate environmental standards into their practices.
Leciejewski says that Catholic Healthcare West’s endorsement of the guidance wasn’t directly related to the prospect of tapping into the federal stimulus dollars. “It could provide positive reinforcement,” she says, “but whether or not we get that, we’re going to continue to be committed to this. That’s part of our mission and part of our core values.”
The hospital chain isn’t limiting itself to whatever future guidance or initiatives come from CEH, she adds. “We’re going to continue to look for opportunities to adopt green policies as they emerge,” she says.
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