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Going green saves green

Florida and Texas hospitals advance their eco-friendly efforts

Monday July 11, 2011
Mike Marino, RN, disposes of appropriate waste in the red bag receptacle.
Mike Marino, RN, disposes of appropriate waste in the red bag receptacle.
(Photos courtesy of Baptist Health)
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Deciding where to toss a dirty diaper or how many linens to grab for a patient may seem like insignificant decisions in the midst of a busy shift, but nurses in Florida and Texas are learning the dozens of small choices they make each day can add up quickly when it comes to environmental impact.

As part of an effort to become a leader in green healthcare, Baptist Health South Florida recently launched an initiative to reduce the amount of red bag waste, or RBW, the six hospitals in the system were generating. Leaders of Baptist Health’s Green Team suspected they could reduce RBW by educating employees about what did not need to go into these bags. By law, any waste that includes blood-soaked bandages or disposable devices such as syringes should be placed into a red bag. Items containing feces, urine, vomit or sputum can go in the regular trash.

RBW produces a larger carbon footprint than other trash because it requires more energy to treat it before it is disposed of in a landfill. Baptist Health’s employees were trained in the sometimes-subtle differences between different types of waste. The result: In the past two years, the facilities within the Baptist Health system have cut down the amount of RBW by 30% to 60% per location and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year — not to mention the benefit to the environment.


Carol Biggs, RN
“We want this to be more than just one green initiative,” said Carol Biggs, RN, MBA-HA, DHSc, vice president of South Miami Hospital, which is part of Baptist Health. “We want this to become part of who we are inside and outside of work.”

To spearhead the green cultural shift, Baptist Health created Green Teams at each facility that brainstorm ideas and also take suggestions from employees. For instance, a nurse recently mentioned that the packaging for the strep test kits seemed excessive. The team worked with the manufacturer to redesign the packaging, and the facilities now are using newly packaged kits that produce less trash.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas also is getting greener by the minute, piloting a new linen exchange system that automatically measures how many pounds of linens are removed from the receptacle and the cost to clean it. For example, a 3-pound blanket costs about $1.39 to clean.

“We found that when patients were being discharged, there were numerous pieces of linen that had not been used but still had to be cleaned,” says Lucy Bird, RN, nurse manager for the orthopaedic unit. “When we began using the automated system, it was eye opening to see how much it costs to clean things, so now nurses take just what they need.”

In four months, the two units that have used the system have saved $12,275 in linen costs, and the hospital plans to roll out the system throughout the facility.

In addition, Baptist Health and Texas Health encourage employees to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle by making it easier to use public transportation. Both offer subsidized mass transportation passes, and Baptist Health worked with the county transportation system to create a transit hub near the hospital.

Although it may seem hard to connect a green lifestyle with better patient outcomes, Biggs believes the two are more connected than many realize. “The patients live in the community around the hospital, and healthy people depend on a healthy environment,” she said. “Also, as nurses we can make a big impact by educating patients that their choices can affect their health and the health of their grandchildren."

Heather Stringer is a freelance writer.


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