Healthcare / Sustainability
European Healthcare Design 2016
Can healthcare heal our communities and the planet?
By Gary Cohen | 04 Aug 2016 | 0
The delivery of care in healthcare facilities results in an ever-increasing environmental footprint, which contributes to damaging the health of the community it seeks to serve. This keynote address examines this contradictory connection between healthcare and environmental health, and explores what can be done to realign the relationship in a positive direction.
There is a paradoxical relationship between hospitals and the environment: the delivery of care within healthcare facilities results in an ever-increasing environmental footprint – in the form of pollution, waste generation, unsustainable food services, etc – which contributes to damaging the health of the community it seeks to serve.
Gary's keynote address at the congress examines this contradictory connection between healthcare and environmental health, and explores what can be done to realign the relationship in a positive direction.
Indeed, contrary to widely held belief, measures by hospitals to become more environmentally sustainable can yield significant savings rather than incur additional costs. Health and environmental sustainability – the natural, built and social environments – are a necessary condition for human health and wellbeing.
Twenty years ago, hospitals were the largest source of dioxin contamination in the US. Dioxin is linked to cancer, learning
disabilities and problems with brain development. In less than a decade, the number of medical waste incinerators in the country fell from about 4500 to just 70.
Gary’s organisation Health Care Without Harm is working with hospitals to change their purchasing practices, encouraging them to support and invest in renewable energy, as well as procure products with chemicals that aren’t toxic to patients or workers. The organisation is also working with hospitals to change how they buy food, so they can support sustainable farmers in the community.
Gary believes that food is medicine and healthy housing is like a vaccine against illness. He believes that healthcare, through its procurement and community investment strategies, can adopt a broader and more effective healing strategy – one that not only heals individual patients but also heals the communities that hospitals serve, and heals the planet in the process.