Nurses Work to Make Surgeries Green

7/22/2009


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – It’s starting to look a bit greener inside Johnson City Medical Center’s surgical areas.

Team members in the Same Day Surgery Center and the main Perioperative Services area at JCMC have been working together to ensure that nearly 5,000 pounds annually of clean, recyclable plastics end up in the recycle bin and not the landfill.

“We started looking at this a year ago and found out that more than 80 percent of the plastics used in a surgery are thrown away before a patient even enters the operating room,” said Danna Flowers, JCMC’s Surgical Specialty Services coordinator. “These plastics have zero exposure to hazardous waste. These are the clean plastic wrappers, plastic cases and plastic bottles. All of the things that are used to prepare for surgery, but have traditionally been thrown away.”

Flowers, a registered nurse who works in Same Day Surgery, began asking others on the surgical teams to place these items in separate containers that she could then take to a recycling center. When she realized that the amount was more than expected, she asked the hospital to supply additional bins just for the recyclables and asked the City of Johnson City about picking up the bins.

“The city agreed to provide the bins and pick up all our recyclables at no cost. That turned into a savings for us, as we were paying for these to be taken to the landfill before we started recycling them,” Flowers said.

Over the last year, she worked with others to better streamline the process, including placing a plastics recyclable container inside the sterile hall in the surgical area that could be emptied into the bins at the end of each day. City crews then pick up the bins once a week.

Sheri Quillin, a certified surgical tech working in the main Perioperative Services operating rooms at JCMC, started working with Flowers a few months ago to bring the same types of plastics down to the bins as well. Using a similar technique as Same Day Surgery - placing the recyclable containers near surgical teams as they prepped a room - Quillin said the results were dramatic.

“Now that we have made it easy for people, they participate. They really do,” she said. “Everybody just started doing it.”

Flowers said the two surgical departments fill seven 65-gallon bins with recyclable plastics each week with a total weight of more than 100 pounds, thus saving more than 5,000 pounds of plastic annually from entering the landfill. She said they also pull random samples for the city to inspect to ensure no hazardous waste is entering the bins.

“The city has really worked with us providing bins and picking up the plastics for free,” she said. “We don’t put anything in there that is not acceptable, as we want to make sure there are no problems.”

Flowers said she felt it was important to get a start on the recycling program for a variety of reasons.

“It’s really the right thing to do, it saves the hospital money and it’s important for us to get started on this now, because in five years, it will probably be mandated by the government anyway,” she said, adding the culture change of getting surgical teams to separate items has come easily. “You have to make it readily available and easy for people. Whether they are really into it or not, if you make it easy, they’ll do it.”

Dale Claytore, vice president of Washington County Operations / Perioperative Servcies, said “Everyone has a responsibility to conserve resources and protect the environment. To this end, we are appreciative of the efforts of Ms. Flowers and are formalizing similar conservation measures in other areas of the hospital.”

About Mountain States Health Alliance

Mountain States Health Alliance, a not-for-profit healthcare organization based in Johnson City, Tenn., operates a family of hospitals in a 29-county, four-state region (Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Southeastern Kentucky and Western North Carolina). Mountain States offers a large tertiary hospital, several community hospitals, two critical access hospitals, rehabilitation, a children’s hospital, a behavioral health hospital, home care and hospice services as well as a comprehensive medical management corporation. Its 9,000 team members are committed to its mission of bringing loving care to health care. For more information, visit www.msha.com.
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