Supporting our planet with clinical environmental stewardship
[4 MIN READ]
In this article:
Human health and the health of our planet are intricately linked. Providence is committed to environmental stewardship in health care to protect our communities and support health for all.
Providence is addressing clinical environmental stewardship, which focuses on the transformation of health care delivery to be aligned with ensuring a healthier planet.
Our team is committed to three pillars of environmental stewardship: mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and advocacy.
Health care is here to promote health for all. And the health of our planet and those who live on it are interconnected. With the global impacts of climate change, from extreme weather events to shifting disease patterns, we are seeing these interlinking effects more and more each day.
Despite this connection, the health care industry has a massive environmental impact itself, with an estimated 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the sector. That’s why Providence is focusing on clinical environmental stewardship which supports the transformation of clinical care delivery to be environmentally safe. It also means we are adapting to the risks from our changing climate to better support the communities we serve, especially vulnerable populations that are more impacted by climate change.
Clinical environmental stewardship is important because clinicians are in unique positions within our facilities and communities to use the power of their voices and expertise to inform policy and activate change. Providence is building climate literacy among physicians to better inform their decisions in clinical care, to be strong advocates for the environment and to connect climate impacts with health impacts.
As a team, we are applying three tested approaches to clinical environmental stewardship to bring this commitment to life:
2. Adaptation and resilience
Health care has traditionally been a resource-intensive industry, both because of the size of the industry (everyone needs health care) and because of the impact of chemicals, water, waste and more that supports safe and clean health care settings.
“We must develop programs across all health care categories to mitigate emissions and track progress,” says Oriana Turley, a registered nurse and current analyst and program coordinator for environmental stewardship at Providence.
However, carbon emissions reduction is not the whole picture. Providence is using its WE ACT framework to take climate action on five key areas of environmental stewardship: Waste, energy and water, agriculture and food, chemicals, and transportation. That means taking action to reduce waste we send to landfills, limiting hazardous waste, curbing food waste in our hospitals (including through composting), cutting fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources and working with vendors throughout our supply chain to be more sustainable. Each of these can be applied to clinical settings, as we empower clinicians to incorporate environmental health impact along with other factors to create a more efficient, thoughtful, holistic approach to clinical care.
“We want to support our clinicians to make decisions related to clinical care with a broader understanding of how those decisions support the environment,” says Brian Chesebro, M.D., an anesthesiologist, and the current medical director of environmental stewardship at Providence. In practice, that means asking our caregivers to adjust how they practice clinical care. This includes evaluating their use of anesthesia, nitrous oxide, and inhalers, all of which have varying environmental impacts, and looking at the whole lifecycle of products, including pharmaceuticals.
Adaptation and resilience
Climate disruption drives environmental hazards that impact health. These hazards, including extreme weather, temperature changes, air pollution and shifting weather patterns vary in their severity but together create risks to the health of people.
Providence is committed to building climate resilience throughout our health system by proactively reducing harm from these environmental hazards. That means identifying the climate risks that may impact our infrastructure and clinical care, those that may affect the communities we serve, and planning ways to mitigate them. As part of risk planning, we created the WE REACH Resiliency Plan, which runs in parallel to the WE ACT framework and includes:
This plan helps our caregivers organize a response that builds climate resiliency into every aspect of our operations.
As respected members of our society, health care providers, including clinicians, have a professional obligation to advocate for environmental health as well as an opportunity for influence with the power of the clinical voice. Not only is it the right thing to do for the planet, but better environmental health means better health outcomes for all people.
Advocacy is crucial not just in transforming Providence and the health care sector to be more sustainable, but also in impacting policy change on a national – and global – level.
“We are proud to be a cornerstone employer and caregiver in the communities we serve,” says Beth Schenk, a registered nurse, and AVP of Environmental Stewardship at Providence. “With that position, we must be part of leading the fight against climate change and supporting our environment.”
Our commitment to our environment
Clinical environmental stewardship in health care not only supports better patient care but our planet as well. And when our planet is healthier, we can all live happier and healthier lives. Health care organizations and the caregivers in them have a responsibility to adopt clinical practices that support the environment, mitigate environmental impact and curb emissions, waste, chemicals, energy use and more. This will require a transformation of healthcare delivery led by clinicians, as clinicians are the experts in clinical care.
It is also our role as caregivers to educate our community and government and advocate for policies that better support the environment and, by association, the individuals in the communities we serve. We are committed to learning more about our impact and applying data-driven, evidence-based knowledge to improve care for our patients.
Brian B. Chesebro, M.D., anesthesiologist in Portland, Oregon, and medical director of environmental stewardship for Providence. Read more about Dr. Chesebro here.
Oriana Turley, registered nurse and current analyst and program coordinator for environmental stewardship at Providence.
Beth Schenk, registered nurse, and AVP of Environmental Stewardship at Providence
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