Military treatment facilities across U.S. Army Medical Command are leaning forward to protect the environment for future generations and ensuring the viability of the MEDCOM mission through sustainability efforts to save our resources and save money.

Tammy Ford, the command's sustainability coordinator, said the command is committed to being financially and environmentally responsible while contributing to and protecting the surrounding community.

"It's important for MEDCOM to do this. We don't want to pollute where our children and grandchildren are going to grow up; we want to keep our natural resources pristine and available. (And) the less pollution we pass on to our air, water, and land, the less pollution (communities are exposed to)," she said.

"Plus, financially, it's a better thing to do, it makes sense. Why wouldn't you conserve water and energy and pay less for these resources?"

Over the past several years, the MEDCOM Sustainability Program has been working to attain a sustainable healthcare program through cost effective, sustainable changes; collaborative partnerships with host installations and local communities; and supply and equipment purchases that provide return on investment thru cost-savings and sustainable results.

In 2009, MEDCOM developed a roadmap to transform its sustainability vision into reality. The command conducted an extensive, web-based survey, completed by 29 MTFs, to establish a sustainability baseline. The combination of baseline and benchmark data from non-MEDCOM medical facilities is being used to develop concrete objectives, targets, and initiatives to bring sustainability to all MEDCOM facilities.

The sustainability strategy plan aligns with Executive Order 13514 directing federal agencies to meet energy, water, pollution and waste reduction targets. The Army has established a sustainability campaign plan and a Net Zero pilot program, which focuses on energy and water conservations and waste reduction through five interrelated steps: reduction, re-purpose, recycling and composting, energy recovery, and disposal.

Armed with data from the 2009 survey to monitor progress and offer suggestions, the sustainability team is conducting site visits to help facilities around the command establish and refine programs.

"We're taking that data and going into a hospital to do a one-day walk-through of all the departments to see what's changed since then," she said.

The team provides the MTF with a progress report detailing how well the facility is doing in working toward being sustainable.

"We share best management practices discovered at other facilities, and suggest changes in product and or processes that will improve their progress toward becoming more sustainable," Ford said, adding that the team is pleasantly surprised every time they visit an MTF at the level of effort the hospital staff is making at becoming more sustainable.

"The hospitals are doing so many great things that they didn't even consider as sustainable. They were just thinking it's a good thing to do, it's good for the environment and it saves money," she said.

Sustainability efforts save nearly $1 million annually at a typical MEDCOM hospital, including more than $400,000 from green cleaning practices; $291,000 from reprocessing single-use devices; $38,000 from energy efficiencies; $62,000 from solid waste diversion and recycling; $20,000 from regulated medical waste deductions; and $53,000 from hazardous waste reductions.

Ford said small steps can make big impacts. For example, the sustainability team encourages MTFs to recycle clean blue wrap, heavy-duty polypropylene plastic used as a protective cover to wrap and store sterilized instruments in the operating room.

"A lot of times, in the operating room suite, they just throw that stuff in with the medical waste which is very costly; it's not medical waste if it is unsoiled. What we want them to do is start recycling blue wrap because there is a market for it in the community. We help them research those avenues and find out where they can recycle it," she said.

Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was one of the first hospitals to implement a blue wrap recycling program and currently recycles more than 35 pounds of blue wrap every day.

Another initiative saving money and reducing waste is the reprocessing of single use medical devices, or SUDs. The reprocessing/remanufacturing SUDs program is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Certain medical devices are intended to be disposed of after only being used once, but many of the devices can be reprocessed to manufactures' standards, sterilized and reused.

The command approved the use of this program in 2010. In 2011, the SUD reprocessing program at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood, Texas, resulted in a savings of $291,508 and reduced the center's medical waste steam by 6,000 pounds.

Additionally, several MTFs around the command have been recognized by Practice Greenhealth, the nation's leading membership and networking organization for institutions in the health care community that have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices:

• Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., earned the Partner for Change with Distinction Award in 2010 and 2011;

• Moncrief Army Community Hospital, Fort Jackson, S.C., earned the Partner Recognition Award in 2010 and 2011;

• Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, earned the Partner Recognition Award in 2010;

• Ireland Army Community Hospital, Fort Knox, Ky., earned the Partner Recognition Award in 2010;

• Kenner Army Health Clinic, Fort Lee, Va., earned the Clinic Partner for Change Award in 2010.

For Ford, these accomplishments are just the beginning as green teams are established around the command and more emphasis is placed on sustainability.

"MEDCOM must continue to act in a manner that is fiscally, environmentally, and socially responsible and embrace sustainable practices that will help support our mission into the future, understanding that the adage, "first, do no harm," applies to the environment and community as well as to patients," she said.

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