Who’s Up For Greening The Health System?

What could possibly go wrong with blowing off the core mission to join the climate cult?

Can Hospitals Turn Into Climate Change Fighting Machines?

On the grounds of the University of California San Diego health system, cacti and succulents thrive where water-hogging grass once lived. Patches of bare earth await replanting or a blanket of mulch. Recycled “grey” water runs through pale purple pipes.

But the real action is inside the hospitals, where another set of pipes carry nitrous oxide. It’s a common anesthetic, also known as laughing gas, and it spews greenhouse gases that linger in the atmosphere for around 114 years. The pipes leak, a lot. Up to 80 percent of the gas can escape.

So the San Diego hospitals are planning to shut off those pipes. They’ve already done a successful pilot in the outpatient surgical center; other operating rooms are in the process of switching to storing the gas in less leak-prone tanks or canisters. Sometimes they’ll use more Earth-friendly drugs when appropriate. They’ve already stopped using another common anesthetic gas, called desflurane, which remains in the atmosphere for a decade or more, according to Shira Abeles, an infectious disease physician at UCSD, who recently became its chief medical sustainability officer.

She’s got plenty of science backing these shifts. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has identified alternatives that are better for the planet, just as safe for patients — and often cheaper.

“One hour of that volatile agent is equivalent to driving a car 250 miles, a gasoline car, I should say. And there’s very little we do in one hour,” said Joanne Donnelly, who, as director of the nurse anesthesia program at the University of Minnesota, has trained personnel in sustainable practices in hospitals across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

When are they replacing the ambulances? How about the fancy, expensive, fossil fueled vehicles the doctors drive? No, look, I could understand fixing the pipes, methane is an actual issue, but, good grief, do not go all cult on this. Remember what’s important, which is taking care of the patients.

The drive to reimagine anesthesia is part of a broader if belated effort to decarbonize U.S. health care, from the operating room to the cafeteria to the gardens and grounds. It’s a push spurred on by both medical professionals and Washington policymakers, who feel increased pressure to act amid the dangers of climate change and who acknowledge health care has been slow to engage on sustainability.

Wait, I thought that politicians were supposed to stay out of our healthcare decisions? No?

The health sector is responsible for 8.5 percent of U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and ozone — an outsized impact compared to the rest of the world. (Globally, health care systems contribute roughly 4.6 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.) Without huge new efforts, the U.S. will have trouble reaching its ambitious emissions reduction goals.

Really, almost no one cares. And those cultists who do will find themselves upset when it messes up their own healthcare and drives the price up.

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3 Responses to “Who’s Up For Greening The Health System?”

  1. Elwood P. Dowd says:

    Switching nitrous oxide from leaky pipes to more secure tanks doesn’t seem to threaten health care. But maybe the leaky pipes explain how the happy people in hospitals!!

    The American Society of Anesthesiologists has identified alternatives that are better for the planet, just as safe for patients — and often cheaper.

    Teach: When are they replacing the ambulances?

    That would hurt healthcare. No?

    Teach: How about the fancy, expensive, fossil fueled vehicles the doctors drive?

    Teach goes all class warrior suggesting hospitals control how employees get to and from work.

    Should the hospitals make no incremental changes until they can convert all activities to be greenhouse gas emission free? What’s the point of that?

  2. david7134 says:

    We use the canisters at Big Charity in the early 70s. Most of these clowns don’t remember them, they were hell. They were about the size of a small torpedo and looked about the same. No matter how well they secure the canister, they always came loose. Then someone would knock it over, the cap would snap off and a couple of hundred pounds of canister and gas would go hurtling down the hall or through the walls of a room. Kind of funny if no one was hurt.

  3. H says:

    Teach apparently enough people care about climate change that they fo elect politicians that are in line with climate change
    Not many politicians who are out to ight climate change deniers get elected

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