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Missoula's two hospitals are moving toward sustainability and green practices as they examine the environmental health of the workplace.

Across the country, reducing waste, eliminating mercury and improving environmental stewardship is a trend evolving in the health care industry.

St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center was one of 141 hospitals, health systems and health care organizations recently awarded for its efforts by the nonprofit Practice Greenhealth.

Across town, Community Medical Center's environmental awareness work group will hold its first meeting Friday to pursue green practices.

Spokeswoman Karen Sullivan said the group will evaluate the facility's waste streams and identify opportunities for improvement. Already, she said they offer a commuter reward system for people who carpool, bicycle or walk to work.

Beth Schenk, a registered nurse and facilitator of women's health at St. Pat's, said she traveled to the May 20-22 conference in Pittsburgh for Practice Greenhealth's awards ceremony.

"It was inspiring because there were really bright people tackling some stubborn environmental problems," she said.

In the fall, Schenk said St. Pat's intends to host a forum on environmental issues for health care entities.

She said St. Pat's is building on last year's efforts with energy reduction and recycling.

The hospital is assessing its environmental impacts, has set a goal of reducing 10 percent of the hospital's waste stream by year's end and is creating a three-year environmental impact plan.

St. Pat's also rolled out an employee educational plan from March 17 to April 22.

For each of the six weeks, it emphasized different themes of an environmentally aware workplace.

In the first week, it collected plastic bottles and gave out 2,000 stainless steel water bottles to employees, volunteers and physicians.

In the second week, the hospital bought 28 containers for several buildings to recycle No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, aluminum soda cans, newspapers and magazines.

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The third week focused on energy and educating people to turn off lights and computers. It also focused on the benefits of using fluorescent bulbs at home. The hospital won an Energy Star award last year.

On the fourth week, the hospital focused on toxins. It invited the Missoula group Women's Voices for the Earth to demonstrate how to make "green" cleaning supplies at home. The hospital is also working to eliminate mercury in lab reagents and PVC plastics in intravenous tubing, Schenk said.

The fifth week focused on paper. Currently, the hospital shreds all the confidential paperwork - which can be recycled into paper towels and toilet paper - and throws out the rest because of labor costs to sort the materials. It educated the staff on using narrower margins, doing double-sided copies and having "paperless" meetings.

The hospital has a goal of reducing white paper use by 20 percent by year's end.

In the final week, the hospital asked employees to fill out a two-page survey and commit to doing three things to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Hospitals for a Healthy Environment - a precursor to Practice Greenhealth - was jointly founded by the American Hospital Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Care Without Harm and the American Nurses Association.

Reporter Pamela J. Podger can be reached at 523-5241 or at pamela.podger@missoulian.


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