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  • Writer's pictureEmory DPT Sustainability

Alumni Feature: Catherine Maloney - Pushing the Envelope of Sustainability in Healthcare

By Eric Holshouser, SPT, PE

I sat down with Catherine Maloney, Vice President of Operations at Emory University Hospital, to discuss sustainability innovation within the healthcare setting. Catherine graduated from Emory’s physical therapy program in 1995 before earning a master’s in healthcare administration in 2003. She also won the Emory Sustainability Innovator award in 2014 for her work to reduce landfill waste from the hospital. Catherine’s work continues as she leads Emory University Hospital in programming that is not only effective, but sustainable.

With regards to sustainability in healthcare, how can people be more effective?

Sustainability in healthcare is a multifaceted endeavor that includes building construction, food sourcing, waste management, and hospital operations, to name a few. To succeed in all of these areas, there are a few strategies that sustainability leaders should be implementing to increase their effectiveness. First, it is important to clearly communicate the “why” of various sustainability initiatives, to create engagement and foster sustainable habits. Similarly, when explaining sustainability, it is important to provide the right pieces of information that are relevant to the audience. Leaders need to make sure that their communication is tailored to what is important to people.

Additionally, a big part of sustainability is maximizing health outcomes. Often resources can be used that only marginally improve patient outcomes. It is imperative that we match our limited resources to the right situations, to provide the most value. For example, physical therapy resources should be used strategically in ways that can produce significant patient outcomes related to mobility, pain reduction or balance.

How is Emory University Hospital driving sustainable change?

Emory University Hospital has made great strides in pursuing sustainability initiatives, especially related to construction and renovation. The ­­­­new hospital bed tower is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certified, which means it was constructed with many of the latest sustainable practices. The building undergoes continued commissioning to ensure it maintains its sustainability standards. Emory University Hospital has completed a facility-wide upgrade to T10 LED lights providing significant savings in energy usage and expenses. Additionally, our hospital strives for recycling close to 95% of our construction waste.

Beyond building construction, Emory University Hospital has made improvements to the sustainability of general operations. The hospital has made big changes to the food and waste management systems. They removed fryers from their kitchens, and provide locally-sourced food and fresh vegetables. Some of the food is even grown in gardens on the campus. Additionally, the food is served in recyclable and compostable containers, and Styrofoam has been removed from use in the hospital. For waste management, Emory University Hospital as partnered with a vendor to implement a system of safely reusing sharps containers. In the operating room areas a scrub dispensing system has been implemented to limit overall usage, replacement and linen processing. Not only has this system reduced materials usage, but it has saved the hospital several thousands of dollars.

What are the next steps for Emory University Hospital to further push the needle towards sustainability?

Moving forward, Emory University Hospital will continue to educate and engage the healthcare staff about sustainability. Change can be difficult for many people, so the challenge moving forward is to educate people on the importance of changing to more efficient and lean processes. One area of renewed focus relates to saving water and energy on washing linens. There is a practice of over utilization of linens, and changing patient linens every day whether indicated or not, which creates excessive linen processing. There is an opportunity to provide an option for patients to reuse linens if they are not soiled, similar to what many hotels do. This could save substantial amounts of energy, water and money.

Emory University Hospital has made great strides in engaging sustainability with initiatives in building construction, food, waste management and general operations, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We must continue to find more efficient processes and creative solutions to reduce our waste and drive positive, healthy change. We are excited to continue this dialogue between educators, clinicians and administrators to meet future sustainability goals.

This interview was conducted and condensed by Eric Holshouser.

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