WEHN’s Making the Connection Conference

Wisconsin Environmental Health Network’s 2016 Making the Connection Conference took place on Friday, February 26. It kicked off with a breakfast meeting at Clean Wisconsin with a select group of healthcare sustainability leaders in Wisconsin, at which WNA was represented. The topic of discussion was sustainable and environmentally conscious decisions that health care providers and facilities have made to better their practices, and ultimately, the earth.

It was a lively discussion; we touched on the successes of hospitals and clinics around Wisconsin that are making strides in running a sustainable business. An important piece of background information is what makes a sustainable business: it is one that addresses the “triple bottom line” to be socially, environmentally, and fiscally conscious.

Paul Linzmeyer, Sustainability Leader at ThedaCare, spoke about the carbon footprint of hospitals and clinics and how we can make a difference by starting to work on sustainable energy sources. He touched on his own experience in the healthcare system, and how he saw waste all around him. One particular story was that a nurse opened a packet of medical equipment, took one out, and threw away the rest. When he pointed out to her that this was rather wasteful, she agreed and said she wished there was something she could do about it, but no one would listen to her. He couldn’t believe the waste of not only materials, but of human potential. At WNA, we know that nurses have a voice, but do all nurses know that? As sustainability leader, the most effective thing that Linzmeyer says he does is simply get nurses, doctors, executives, and other organization stakeholders in a room together to talk about where they can improve in sustainability.

Ted Schettler, Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, presented on the indoor environment in our health care facilities and green building. He noted how many of our current building materials contain pollutants that affect nurses’ and patients’ health. These health problems can be big ones, like cancer, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. The Collaborative on Health and the Environment has a Toxicant and Disease Database you can use to view the links between chemical contaminants and about 200 diseases. You can use this to make sure that these chemicals aren’t used where YOU work, affecting YOUR health. We need to build cleaner and healthier facilities, and we need nurses and other health care workers to speak up to their employers that healthy buildings matter to them.

A highlight of this discussion was Edgerton Hospital, and the improvements they made to their facility. The project aimed to create a building that was energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and highly sustainable that at the same time is “people friendly and patient focused to promote healthy mind, body, and spirit.” Some of the innovations include green roofs, water efficient landscaping, all digital technology, and most exciting, geothermal heating & cooling. In fact, Edgerton Hospital is the first Critical Access hospital in the U.S. to build using geothermal heating and cooling. It means more efficient use of energy and more comfort for the patients. Read more about geothermal heating and cooling here.

The general theme of the discussions leaned on the idea that lower-level employees, like staff nurses, are the ignition to change. Nurses should be on the front lines telling leadership that a sustainable work environment is important to them and to proper patient care. There is never a better time than today to start this discussion. Email info@wisconsinnurse.wpengine.com with any questions, or if you want to get more involved in environmental health. Also, be sure to check out WEHN’s website to see the complete presentations from the day!

Save the Date for the next WEHN Making the Connection conference: February 17-18, 2017

Interested in getting more involved with Environmental Health and WNA? Check out the WNA Wisconsin Environmental Health Nurses Coalition MIG!