Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Healthy Choices: Transforming Our Hospitals into Environmentally Healthy and Safe Places

Academic journal article Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Healthy Choices: Transforming Our Hospitals into Environmentally Healthy and Safe Places

Article excerpt

Abstract

While it is commonly understood that the quality of the air we breath and the water we drink can impact our health, it is often more difficult to recognize that our choices of the health care products, along with the way we dispose of them, and the chemicals we spray on our foods or use to clean and disinfect may actually compromise the environment and consequently our health. This article will guide nurses and other health care professionals as they transform our hospitals into environmentally healthy and safe places by helping them adhere to environmentally preferable purchasing policies, follow environmentally conscious waste management strategies, decrease use of chemical pollutants, promote use of healthy foods, and provide leadership in environmental stewardship

Citation: Sattler, B., Hall, K., (May 31, 2007) "Healthy Choices: Transforming Our Hospitals into Environmentally Healthy and Safe Places" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 12 No. 2, Manuscript 3. Available: www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume122007/No2May07/HealthyChoices.aspx

Key words: chemical pollutants, environment, environmental stewardship, health, medical waste management, pesticides, precautionary principles, sustainable foods

Our awareness of the environment and its potential impact on human health has been growing over the last two decades. In addition to our emerging understanding of the macro-environment, including air and water pollution, global warming, and climate change, we are increasingly aware of the environmentally related impact of our micro-environments - our homes, schools, and workplaces - and the outcomes created by the choices we make in these environments. Of all places, health care institutions should be models of healthy environments, yet there is still much room for improvement in this regard in most health care settings. This article aims to identify environmental health risks for which risk-reduction solutions are within easy reach and nurses can take leadership roles to implement these solutions.

The health care sector comprises approximately 15.5% of the Gross Domestic Product. In the United States (US) we spend more than twice as much money on health care as we do on education, and almost 3.6% more of the national budget on health care than we do on defense (Adams, 2005). Nurses work in the largest and most robust sector in the U.S. economy. In addition to the direct health services that nurses provide, we and our institutions are also huge purchasers of a wide range of goods: food, equipment, paper and office products, batteries, linens, construction products, and the list goes on. The health care industry also purchases vast amounts of energy and produces enormous amounts of waste, including more than 2.4 million tons of waste each year (Health Care Without Harm [HCWH], n.d.b.).

Nurses can transform the health care sector into a model sector whose goals include promoting environmental health for patients, employees, and communities. This article will discuss some of the key areas where nurses can make a difference, transforming our health care facilities into environmentally healthy and safe places. This can be accomplished as nurses help our institutions adhere to environmentally preferable purchasing policies, follow environmentally conscious waste management strategies, decrease the use of chemical pollutants, promote the use of healthy foods, and provide leadership in environmental stewardship. By taking positive steps, however modest, nurses can begin to have a serious impact on the quality of our environmental health. The environmental health risks described below may be to patients, staff, and/or the community. The commonality is that nurses have the capacity to bring about changes that will reduce or eliminate these risks.

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policies

By understanding the health risks posed by the manufacture of health care products; the energy it takes to produce, use, and dispose of these products; and the health and environmental impact of these products, we can grasp the full "life cycle" of various health care products and their potential impact on our health and our environment which are intricately intertwined. …

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