Eric Legras … THEDOCTORFACTORY … Health & Wellness Strategic Marketing

Healthy Environment, Healthy Patient by Aléxia Herms

By Sita Ananth-

healthy environments

While much attention is paid to the care patients receive in our health care institutions, until recently little attention has been paid to the physical space where they stay for days, possibly weeks. In fact, the very buildings and medical devices we use to treat our patients and residents could contribute to the diseases we are trying to cure, say Mark Rossi and Tom Lent in their 2006 paper published by the Center for Health Design.

Things are changing dramatically, however, and the concept of a “healing space”—one that contributes to the health and healing of the patient—is quickly gaining ground. Organizations like the Samueli Institute and the Center for Health Design are guiding institutions in developing strategies and tools to create physical environments that stimulate patient healing while paying attention to all that patients take into their bodies—water, food and air.

Green Design

Every year, the health care industry produces 2 million tons of waste that pose occupational and environmental threats. Kaiser Permanente’s managers are committed to being a leader in protecting not only their patients but also their communities and environment. In the Santa Clara, Calif., facility—which was built using the principles of Safety by Design that incorporate worker and workplace safety, patient safety, and environmental safety—patient satisfaction rose 24 percent following a rebuild, says Christine Malcolm, senior vice president for hospital strategy and national facilities. In fact, the reconstruction of my local Kaiser Medical Center in Vallejo, Calif., provided a unique opportunity for Kaiser to create a healing space for its patients while reducing its carbon footprint in the community.

Malcolm says Kaiser’s environmental activism began in the 1960s when marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson was invited to speak at a symposium for Kaiser physicians and scientists. Motivated by the fact that Kaiser’s leaders are responsible for almost 160,000 employees, many of whom work for the organization most of their lives, these leaders became committed to ensuring their employees’ health and well-being. Since then, they have been granted numerous awards for their work in environmental stewardship and have now founded theGlobal Health and Safety Initiative, bringing together a cross-industry group to share best practices in improving patient, workplace, and environmental health and safety.

Good Environmental Care

A recent article by Joel Kreisberg, D.C., founder of the Teleosis Institute, draws attention to the fact that integrative approaches to patient health care do not necessarily consider the impact of the environment on whole-person health. Yet there are many opportunities for hospitals and providers to promote individual health while promoting environmental health. Many complementary and alternative medicine therapies, for example, are not dependent on the consumption of natural resources or the use of equipment. Such therapies include manipulative therapy and mind-body medicine, which make them naturally environmentally friendly.

To quote Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, “We will not have healthy individuals, families and communities until we have clean air, clean water and healthy soil.” Green healing spaces and environmentally friendly therapies are a necessary first step.


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