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Guest view: Healthcare providers do their part to mitigate global warming.

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Wildfires and their increased air pollution, unprecedented heat waves, drought with water shortages, Montana experienced all of these this year.

As health professionals, we are concerned about climate’s impact on the people and communities we care for. We believe it is imperative that those of us in health care do our part to mitigate global warming. Currently, the U.S. health care industry produces at least 8.5% of U.S. total carbon emissions and 25% of worldwide health care emissions. Lowering these numbers can have a significant positive impact on global warming and serve as a model for others.

Regionally, there are some leaders in these efforts. The Providence Healthcare system, including St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula and St. Joseph’s in Polson, has taken major steps in reducing its environmental impact, going so far as to set an ambitious goal to become carbon negative by 2030, eliminating or offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions.

A large health system with over 50 hospitals in 7 states, Providence has examples of on-site solar, wind, and geothermal renewable energy, and green tariff programs with utilities for significant renewable electricity. They have committed to reducing waste by 50% by 2030, enacting their "Waste Optimization" platform and to purchase 25% of the food used within the system sustainably by 2025. They have reduced greenhouse gases from anesthetic agents by 70%, on their way to 95%. Providence Healthcare has reduced business travel by 70%. As a Catholic system committed to justice, its hospitals and clinics are working with the communities they serve to understand and address inequities posed by climate change and other pollution.

These efforts are not only helpful in mitigating global warming; they are also fiscally beneficial.

Brian Chesebro, MD, the Providence Oregon Region Medical Director for Environmental Stewardship, recently commented: “I would say that two environmental stewardship initiatives in the operating room (anesthesia emissions reductions and surgical supply optimization) have thus far saved the Providence Oregon Region a combined $3.5 million/year across 8 hospitals.”

We applaud Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health (SCL Health) for recently joining Practice Greenhealth. Montana hospitals in this healthcare system include St. Vincent’s in Billings, Holy Rosary in Miles City, and St. James in Butte.

Health Care Without Harm, with 17,000 hospital members worldwide and its sister organization, the U.S.-based Practice Greenhealth, are available to assist hospitals and clinics in making the transition to more environmentally friendly care delivery. Many professional organizations offer guidelines for practice improvements including the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the Association of American PeriOperative Registered Nurses, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, among others.

Whether you are a patient or a healthcare provider, ask your hospital to consider sustainability!

We encourage all of our health care professional colleagues to become informed regarding climate change, its effects on the health of our patients, and the ways in which we can decrease those effects. We are all being adversely impacted by climate change and it is imperative that all of us providing health care in Montana actively become stewards of our planet as well as our local communities. Please join us in these efforts!

Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate is a Montana non-profit working to increase awareness of climate change, its impacts on human health and actions we can take to lessen those impacts.

Contributors to this opinion include Cathy White MD, Butte; Ned Vasquez MD, Missoula; Robert Byron MD, Hardin; Lori Byron MD, Hardin; and Teresa Blascovich MD, Billings.


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