Sustainability research looks for ways to run the hospital more efficiently by examining the materials consumed and waste generated at the facility. In 2012, UC Davis Health System created a special “Linen Task Force” committee to establish and promulgate policies to improve efficiencies and reduce waste, while maintaining patient-focused quality and safety. The committee designed a linen campaign that reduced waste and laundry costs by educating staff on bed-linen changing practices, proper hamper use and adopting reusable pillows. These initiatives have already saved $470,000 and diverted over 100,000 pounds of linen waste.
A major concern for healthcare, at large, is the significant volume of plastic products used in clinical care and the associated potentially hazardous environmental impacts arising during the product life-cycle. These healthcare products are necessary to provide safe, effective care to patients, but many are available in both disposable and reusable types, and work is being carried out to determine which type has both the lowest environmental impact and the best fiscal outcome. Disposable and reusable products vary in characteristics such as price, durability and disposal processes. If the hospital chooses between a disposable product and reusable product, they need to take into account more than just money, and consider things like personal safety, comfort and environmental impact. For example, staff members wear scrub jackets for to stay warm, but there are several types of jackets available on the market and the hospital must decide the best type to provide. Three different types of jackets have been trialed and staff members surveyed to determine which jacket satisfies the requirements of safety, comfort, cost and environmental impact.
Joanne Brasch, a Ph.D. candidate and former sustainability researcher, worked closely with the health system and the UC Davis Department of Textiles and Clothing to research the application of reusable products throughout the hospital. Her research explored the complexities of the hospital’s material economy by interviewing, surveying, and analyzing the staff members to understand the relationship between products and people. Joanne has published and shared her work around the country as her research contributes to the discourse on hospital sustainability.
Additional waste reduction opportunities involve educating the community on the benefits of proper waste disposal and diverting surplus clean products for reuse in other countries or in student labs. For more details on the sustainability research projects that were conducted at UC Davis Health System, please contact Sustainability@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu or email@example.com.