Contributed by Jeffrey Brown, Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth
Health care professionals are charged with creating environments that foster quality health care delivery, patient healing and healthy workplaces for staff. For over fifteen years, partner organizations Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm have worked with thousands of leading hospitals, health care organizations and suppliers to help them take steps to create healthier facilities by making better, more sustainable decisions about the products and services they purchase. The most innovative organizations have adopted an intentional and strategic approach: avoiding products, services, and materials that can have negative impacts on patients, staff, our communities and the environment. In doing this, they’ve aligned their operations with health care’s healing mission. We’ve seen lots of progress since our founding, and 2014 in particular was important, as hospitals across the country took a big step forward in selecting furniture and materials that contain fewer or no toxic chemicals.
Creating Healthier Healing Environments
Every day, we are surrounded by thousands of products made from chemicals in our homes, workplaces, schools and stores. Hospitals and health care facilities are no exception.
Forward-thinking health care facilities are zeroing in on furnishings as another important step toward creating healthier healing environments. In fact, the 2013 Healthier Hospitals Initiative Milestone Report released by Practice Greenhealth showed that health care facility spending is up on products that are leading to a healthier healing environment for patients, staff and visitors who walk through the doors.
Practice Greenhealth is working with health care providers to identify chemicals commonly found in furniture that may be hazardous to human health and the environment.
Fortunately, manufacturers have found that it is possible to make healthcare products and furnishings for hospitals using chemicals that we believe are less hazardous, or in many cases, have no known human or environmental toxicity. We believe that these innovations in product manufacture are a win-win for the companies and more importantly, for people who are healing.
A Game Changer: For the Health Care Sector and the Supply Chain
Last year was a big year in our quest to create healthier healing environments. Early in 2014, the State of California overhauled its 39-year-old flammability rule, allowing furniture manufacturers to meet safety standards without adding hazardous flame-retardant chemicals to foam or fabric used in furniture.
Following the California decision, Kaiser Permanente announced that it would no longer purchase any furniture treated with toxic flame retardants. In September, Advocate Health Care, Beaumont Health System, Hackensack University Medical Center, and University Hospitals Health System followed suit, announcing that they too would transition away from toxic chemicals commonly found in furniture. The five health systems spend roughly $80 million a year to furnish hospitals, medical offices and other buildings with chairs, benches, sofas and other furniture.
Their decision to purchase flame retardant-free furnishings is a game-changer for the health care sector and the health care supply chain.
How to Adopt Safer Purchasing Strategies
Practice Greenhealth has already helped hundreds of hospitals across the country take a big step forward in selecting furniture and materials to create a healthier healing environment. As part of the Greening the Supply Chain® Initiative, we created a supplier directory of Practice Greenhealth business members to assist hospitals with what we feel are better purchasing decisions. The directory is a great source of information on what we consider to be environmentally preferable products and services.
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