How sustainability programs cure health-care woes

How sustainability programs cure health-care woes

Stethoscope photo by haveseen via Shutterstock

Hospitals are full of creative, passionate people doing all kinds of work from all kinds of backgrounds. But their passion can get squashed in the health-care environment due to endless regulations, reporting, protocol, tasks, steps and limited time and dollars. And with the constant changes underfoot, it's inevitable that there will be a misstep or two (or slip or fall).

According to Eric Parmenter, vice president of employer solutions at Evolent Health, "With health-care reform, employees of hospitals and health systems are experiencing a tsunami of change in their industry, and by extension their career. These changes, which require all health-care providers to do more with less and achieve higher quality, are adding stress to an already stressed-out and unhealthy population of workers. Patient satisfaction and quality clinical outcomes are directly correlated to employee engagement. One of the key drivers of employee engagement is the perception by employees that senior leadership (the C-Suite) cares about their well-being."

Delivering better care

An engaged worker is one who exceeds expectations. In a study by Towers Watson titled "Employee Engagement and the Transformation of the Health Care Industry," developed in conjunction with the Harvard Forces of Change Program at Harvard University School of Public Health, engagement in the workforce was measured in three areas:

1. Rational: Does the employee understand what is expected of him or her? 

2. Emotional: Does the staffer have a passion for the work?

3. Motivational: Is the worker motivated to perform to his or her fullest potential?

When it comes to staff engagement, why does it feel like health care is the last to the party? According to a 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce study, only about half of the 20,000 health-care survey respondents expressed a generally favorable view of their organization's leadership. The data from the same study revealed what an employee sought out of leadership: that it be trustworthy and that it care about the well-being of others.

But engaged staff needs more than leadership trust and empowerment — it needs a healthy and respectful work environment, as well as supports in place to help get the job done in the ever-changing landscape.

Making workplace tweaks

Knowing that there's a correlation between a satisfied worker and quality outcomes, we might want to tweak a few health-care workplace issues that still can be found on a regular day of "healing" in today's hospital.

First off, it's important to understand that healers need healing, too — nurses have the highest asthma rate of any sector, due to constant exposure to cleaners and disinfectants. Staff is stressed out and would benefit from exercise, views of nature, healthier food, less toxic materials, access to adequate supplies and a back massage. You can't tend to others very well if you're fried.

Speaking of fried, hospitals are realizing that it's time to get the fries out of the cafeteria and model healthier behavior in an age of chronic diseases connected to food choices. Committing to healthier foods for staff and patients, including hosting farmers markets and providing educational information, extends healthier habits to families, friends and the community. Because research shows that views of nature and access to daylight can reduce stress and support focus, backrooms can provide views or include natural lighting.

"At some point, we need to understand that to truly reduce health-care costs, we need to promote healthy lifestyles to prevent illness  — not just focus on changing benefits plan design," said Thora Khademazad, manager of health enhancement for Tenet, who heads up the Healthy at Tenet Program. "A healthy environment is an essential component when pursuing a healthy lifestyle."

Examples of success

Increasingly, the health-care industry is walking the talk when it comes to creating a healthy work environment — and in ways that go beyond just handing out reusable tote bags on Earth Day. These hospitals make sustainability and wellness fun and easy while clearly communicating expectations:

Tenet Healthcare, one of the nation's largest investor-owned health-care delivery systems, offers the Healthy at Tenet program. Staff are provided credits for participating in wellness activities such as stress-reduction programs, exercising and healthier food commitments. They receive up to $600 individually or $1,200 per year for a family. In order to receive credits, staffers are required to determine their baseline health assessment and undergo an annual physical examination. While participation may cost more at the start, over time the health costs of engaged staffers decrease.

Seattle Children's hospital gives out free bikes to staff and pays commuters the price of parking when they don't use the parking lot.

Inova Health partnered with four local farmers markets to run the Double Dollars Food Stamp Enhancement Program, which allows consumers to stretch their SNAP (food stamp) dollars by doubling the first $10 spent at the market to increase access to local fruits and vegetables.

Rady Children's Hospital reduced the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages by 30 percent in the first year and educated consumers about healthier beverages.

Overlook hospital partnered with Bee Bold to install honey bee hives on their campus. They provide a live-feed to a local school, so children can learn about bee making. The hospital also uses the honey to make lip balm and face cream, which it sells in the hospital shop.

Kaiser Permanente recycled a big-box store by purchasing a foreclosed Circuit City building in Portland, Ore., and reusing materials to renovate it. Kaiser seeks LEED certification for the new medical office. It also aims to help revitalize the neighborhood.

Providence St. Peter incorporated natural day-lighting into its operating room suites.

Cape Coral Hospital developed "stair wellness" by painting and decorating stairwells, and piping in music, to promote stair usage.

St. Joseph Hospital (Dignity) volunteers planted a 4,000-square-foot garden where they harvest and distribute vegetables to those in need through a local soup kitchen.

And the list goes on. "Transparency, safety and honesty: That's how we engage others," said David Zinger, employee engagement expert.

Learn more and get involved

Join Practice Greenhealth and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative at 1 p.m. ET March 18 for a free webinar, "Investment in Employee Health & Wellness with a Research Update from Vanderbilt Health." Presenters Eric Parmenter, vice president of employer services at Evolent Health, and Mary Yarbrough, MD, associate professor of internal medicine and preventive medicine and executive director of the faculty/staff health and wellness program for Vanderbilt University, will share their respective expertise on employee engagement, productivity and cost.

Dr. Yarbrough will provide a case study from her work at Vanderbilt that resulted in a 25 percent reduction in costs associated with staff health care, as well as an overview of employee wellness initiatives through the World Health Organization and CDC's model for a healthy workplace and emphasis on a healthy environment. This blueprint provides a foundation for the business case that healthier environments matter. Dr. Yarbrough also will share tips on evaluation and innovation in developing partnerships, and insights about the relationship between wellness and environmental stewardship at Vanderbilt. Learn more and register for a free call.

Stethoscope photo by haveseen via Shutterstock