Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sustainable healthcare and a call for action

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, I attended my first lunch series event at UIC. The topic was about the environmental impacts of healthcare practices completed by U.S. hospital. It was presented by Peter Orris, the Chief of Service and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois Medical Center.

Let me start off by saying I am not a pre-med or an environmental or science-related major. The information below is a review from someone who knows very little about the topic.

Despite not knowing or needing information about the topic, I learned a lot. Here are some facts I learned from the presentation that are pretty scary when you consider the impacts they have on our environments:

  • In 1995 medical waste incinerators were the largest sources of dioxin and were responsible for 10% of mercury emissions
    • Kids exposed to mercury and other toxic things have been known to have mental disabilities and/or significant drops in IQ.
  • At least 250 million pounds of pharmaceutical waste is generated annually from hospitals and long-term care centers
  • Poor air quality has been identified as the most frequent cause of work-related asthma in healthcare
  • Healthcare is the second most energy intensive sector in commercial buildings 
I wondered - why haven't medical care centers noticed this a long time ago? Luckily, my question was answered very simply: Physicians in the forefront are not in charge of the allocation of certain materials they use; those working behind the scenes of medical care centers have not been carefully looking into where the materials that make up their tools come from. 

It seems like the solution to this problem isn't complicated - Practicioners and distribution centers or purchasers need to examine where the materials from the items they use come from. However, it isn't that simple, as money and timing issues may come into place. It is important that medical care centers start putting more effort and care when making decisions that could affect their patients and the environment. 

The good news is that there have been some good advancements in the past years. Some of these include the fact that medical waste incinerator usage in the U.S. has decline from 6, 200 in 1988 to only 83 in 2007. Also, mercury usage in healthcare has been rapidly decking. Currently, 5,000 U.S. health care facilities have pledged to go mercury free. Furthermore, designers and architects are beginning to make healthier and safer facilities for patients and employees.

All of the information I gathered was important and useful; however, although it is great to know, I really don't need this information as a Communication major. As I looked around this room on the west campus, I asked myself: "Where are all the students?" 

Our school has great resources that many students need to take advantage of - this lunch series could very well benefit those medical students who want to make a difference by implementing sustainable practices in their future careers. A new generation of medical care practitioners, my classmates, are the ones who could changing the way health care facilities run their practices. Information sessions like these are great supplements for learning and will help students become the best practitioners they can be. 

So to my fellow students, I'd like to make a call for action - Take notice of all of the UIC events that are held and take advantage of them! You can find more events like this one on our or UIC's website - links below:

Thanks for reading!


UIC Calendar of Events 

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