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Hopkins Goes Green
Throughout the medical institutions, teams are trying to improve the environment.


Hopkins' WIPES campaign
As part of a quality improvement fellowship, anesthesiologist Jerry Stonemetz initiated a project last year to educate hospital staff about segregating contaminated trash from other waste.

When Kristi Parkerson began working in the neurological critical care unit at Hopkins, she experienced eco-culture shock. Her previous hospital, in Johnson City, Tenn., had a well-established recycling program. Here in Baltimore, however, there was nada. All those soda cans, all those water bottles, all those yogurt containers went into the same trash as chicken bones, paper towels, Kleenex—you name it.

“I thought, This is crazy!” the 27-year-old nurse says. “A huge institution that influences so many people, and so many things, worldwide—and they don’t recycle?”

Parkerson wrote various departments she thought might help change the situation, but her e-mails went unanswered. So with the encouragement of nurse manager Gail Biba, she bought a 30-gallon trash can, made a recycling sign, and started building awareness in her unit of roughly 90 people. As the bottle and can containers she placed in the break room and waiting area filled, she took them home to Annapolis to recycle herself.

Things have improved: Parkerson has moved to Baltimore, and she’s hauling a lot more bags. In the past two years, she has removed close to 150 recycling bags and coaxed her NCCU comrades onto greener pathways. She’s also the unit’s liaison to the fledgling “Green Team,” a group of kindred spirits who are helping Hopkins Hospital improve its profile of environmental responsibility.

Begun in January by Chris Seale, director of environmental services, and Colleen Cusick, clinical products specialist in materials management, the team has roughly 65 members throughout the hospital and an ambitious agenda: reducing regulated medical waste, saving energy, reducing the use of foam cups and purchasing environmentally friendly products.

One of the most visible successes is the separation and disposal of regulated medical waste, also known as “red bag” trash. In the past, all hospital trash was thrown together in red biohazard bags and handled as if it were infectious. Now, combined with separation efforts in the operating room by anesthesiologist Jerry Stonemetz, the Environmental Services team has cut back more than a million pounds of the waste, which includes materials contaminated by blood and other body fluids. In addition, the hospital’s prized rotoclave—the largest in North America—sterilizes the waste, reduces it in volume by roughly 80 percent and renders it harmless. Not only is this process good for the environment, but it also saves money.

Seale says roughly half of the units now separate contaminated trash. With 90 percent participation, he estimates the hospital can save enough money to hire the full-time workers needed for hospital-wide recycling of cans, bottles, cardboard and paper.

It’s challenging for volunteers, no matter how determined, to forge ahead in Hopkins’ highly decentralized universe.

“Everything is done in silos here,” he says. “It can be very different trying to get something done in Place A the same way that it’s done in Place B.”

One way is to keep people informed. In addition to meeting once a month with members and new volunteers, the Green Team hopes to launch a Web site that can keep environmentalists up to date on the hospital’s activities and offer links to initiatives throughout the institutions. Here are some programs at other facilities:

The amount of recycling at the School of Medicine increased from 19 tons to 109 tons from 2006 to 2007 with the combined efforts of the student-run Leadership Initiative for the Environment and SOM facilities management. The recycling program is on track to do even better this year.

A computerized lighting program at the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center was introduced to conserve energy—and reduce monthly utility bills by 15 percent—by making sure the lights are off whenever the building is not in use. (This means every weekend as well as after midnight on weekdays.) In addition, all bathrooms, janitors’ closets and network and electrical support rooms use a system that turns the lights off when a room is vacant for a certain time.

A new green team at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center hopes to begin recycling for bottles, cans, paper and cardboard. Team co-leader Linda Paren is also exploring ways to provide sustainable food options for employees, perhaps even setting up a local farmer’s market on campus.

Sean Nelson, assistant director for facilities engineering for JHOC, says he wants to shut down computers after hours and possibly install a “green roof” atop the nine-story building to help insulate it. He also plans to reduce the facility’s regulated medical waste by half, to 550 pounds a day.

Meanwhile, at Hopkins Hospital, Seale is selling the benefits of separating regulated medical waste, one unit at a time.

“We tell people that we’re one of the few hospitals that aren’t doing waste segregation across the board,” he says. “Sometimes people need a little nudge to respond, but we’re on our way.”

—Linell Smith

To contact the JHH green team:
For the Bayview green team: or
For the SOM’s LIFE team:



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