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Sustainable hospitals: We know impact of climate change on health — we also know health care facilities are contributing to it

Sustainable hospitals: We know impact of climate change on health — we also know health care facilities are contributing to it

Sustainable hospitals: We know impact of climate change on health — we also know health care facilities are contributing to it

Dr. Lisa Cerceo counsels her patients on the effects of climate changes, how it affects their health, as well as ways to mitigate these issues.

For instance, she tells those with those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — what the commercials call COPD — about how to determine when there is a bad air-quality day and what to do about it.

“There’s certainly tangible things that we as physicians can act on with the one-on-one patient,” she said — referring to any ailment that is impacted by climate change.

Now, I am the chair of Health and Public Policy Committee of The New Jersey chapterYou can find the American College of Physicians, she’s taking another approach.

Instead of just treating those suffering from the impacts of climate change, she’s helping in an effort to change the habits of those contributing to climate change. The group is starting right in its own backyard, with hospitals and health care facilities.

Last week, an ACP-NJ task force released its “Sustainable Initiatives to Guide Healthcare Transformation” report — providing recommendations to incorporate environmental sustainability into New Jersey’s health systems and facilities.

The report stated that statistics show that nearly 9% of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions are due to health care. Hospitals also contribute over one-third of these emissions. This means that hospitals face a challenge in adopting programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote environmental resilience. 

Three key points

The report by the New Jersey chapter of the American College of Physicians’ “Sustainable Initiatives to Guide Healthcare Transformation” task force recognized the intersection of climate and health and identified 13 key categories for the state and its health systems to consider when making day-to-day decisions. These are just a few of the recommendations.

  • Encourage the Department of Health to develop a state-level strategy for decarbonization of health care in line with the national goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Direct the DOH in developing a comprehensive plan to address both the operational and physical risks from climate change to public and private health systems and facilities. Also, to assist rural hospitals, communities, public safety nets, and public health departments in preparing for and responding the public health risks of climate crisis.
  • Provide funding, tax incentives, and financing to health care facilities that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest on clean energy and resilience.

“As a physician, it is not only important to recognize the impact of climate change on the health of our patients and communities in our daily practice, but also actively support measures to incorporate environmental sustainability into our own practices and at the health systems we work in every day.

The SIGHT report acknowledges the interplay of climate and health. It calls on the state and the health system to make environmental sustainability in healthcare a priority. 13 key categories are identified for health systems to consider in making day-to-day decisions – from leadership to construction.

Cerceo stated that some are simple.

“Just changing out lights to LED or decreasing the amount of air returns in ORs that aren’t in use — there’s very low-hanging fruit in a lot of sustainability that health systems can easily embark on,” she said. 

Even more, she said, it’s worth it to do.

“I’m not a finance person, I’m a physician, but there usually are cost savings associated with energy efficiency,” she said.

Cerceo and six other members of SIGHT Task Force will not be alone in tackling the challenge. Cerceo claimed that the movement for sustainability-oriented health care facilities is on the rise.

She cites international groups like Health Care Without Harm or Practice Greenhealth that focus on large health systems. MyGreenDoctor.org provides sustainability tips for ambulatory practices.

In December, Dr. Victor Dzau, the president of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, co-authored a report, “Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector — A Call to Action,” in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“There already is quite a movement in in health care to recognize that this is an issue,” Cerceo said.

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The SIGHT Report is intended to help others get involved in the effort, and also show them the way.

“We have a roadmap,” she said. “We know what steps we can take. If there’s new construction, we know how to make it more resilient. We can help you save money on energy efficiency if there is another hurricane Sandy or Ida. 

“There’s a clear path forward. It’s building consensus and making sure that everyone recognizes that this is good for patients, it’s good for health care systems and it’s good for New Jersey all around.”

Cerceo stated that the key to success is getting buy-in from the top.

“One of the easiest first steps a health system can enact is creating a green team or center for sustainability,” she said. “After engaging leadership, much of the conversation will flow from there.”

Cerceo stated that physicians are eager for more.

“I think a lot of physicians who are really dedicated to the practice and dedicated to treating patients in an environmental justice community have an underlying interest in in climate change,” she said. “But I don’t think a lot of physicians necessarily see a path forward for how they can incorporate that into their daily practice. 

“Greening our own backyards is one very tangible action that we can take.”

The SIGHT task force

Members of the “Sustainable Initiatives to Guide Healthcare Transformation” task force include:

  • Dr. Lisa Cerceo:Cerceo is the chair of health and policy. He has been a champion for sustainability in the health care system. Cerceo also co-chairs Cooper University Healthcare’s Green Team.
  • Kyle Tafuri Tafuri, Hackensack Meridian Health’s director of sustainability, is responsible for the development and management corporate sustainability for the network. She ensures that it creates a healthier environment for patients and team members.
  • Dr. Catherine ChenChen is an assistant professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and an academic hospitalist. She is interested in providing high-quality, sustainable health care.
  • Carolyn Brown-Dancy: As the director of environmental health and safety at Atlantic Health System, Brown-Dancy’s leadership commitment is to implement programs to dramatically reduce waste and increase recycling in health systems to be a leader in sustainability.
  • Gregory Evans: Evans is the director of sustainability at Penn Medicine Princeton Health. He is currently working to develop a multiyear strategy that will ensure Princeton Health meets key sustainability milestones to improve the overall well-being of patients, staff and the community. 
  • Howard Halverson:Halverson, as director of environmental services at Valley Hospital is committed to minimizing hospital operations’ impact on the environment and promoting a more sustainable future.
  • Jill Aquino As a school nurse and is now an environmental nurse, Aquino is a volunteer activist nurse for Alliance for Nurses and Health Environments, American Lung Association, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, Clinicians for Climate Action N.J., and panelist for the American Lung Association’s Children’s Environmental Health Network Virtual Healthy Children’s Day.



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