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Sustainability research includes finding new ways to run the hospital more efficiently. Looking at the rate and types of materials consumed and wasted serves as an indicator of material efficiency. 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 health care 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 price, durability and disposal processes. Using cameras as an example, the reusable digital cameras are more expensive with higher quality pictures, as opposed to disposable cameras that are relatively inexpensive and convenient. If the hospital chooses between a disposable gown and reusable gown, they need to take into account more than just money, and consider things like personal comfort and environmental impact.

The health system looks deeper into all sustainability claims and financial outcomes before adopting greener products. An important factor before making any changes is to develop tools to measure success. Research at UC Davis Health System uses tools from different disciplines to determine the best way to compare each product. Engineering tools examine life cycle impacts, environmental analysis helps determine risks, and economic planning leads to long-term projects that support a safe, functional hospitals for generations to come.

Joanne Brasch, a Ph.D. candidate and sustainability researcher, works closely with the health system and the UC Davis Department of Textiles and Clothing to evaluate the feasibility of adopting reusable products throughout the hospital. Some specific projects look into transitioning away from disposable pillows, warm-up jackets, and operation room linens to reusable products.

The disposal pillow transition to reusable projects is being sequentially rolled-out, with four units currently active, three planned for early 2013, and remaining units to be scheduled. The potential for disposable warm-ups jackets to be replaced with reusable products is the research topic for Brasch’s dissertation, with data gathering currently underway. Discussions regarding a transition to selected reusable operation room linens have been conducted by the UC Davis Health System Linen Task Force, with vendors presenting information on how their reusable product lines can be effectively integrated into current supply lines.

Additionally, there are other projects that measure material efficiency by promoting an educational campaign for staff and patients on the many benefits of going green.  Additional information on these projects, as well as progress reports on Brasch’s research, will be posted to this site as it becomes available.