Kermit said it best, “it’s not easy being green,” but the Green Environment Management Systems (GEMS) committee at the VA Maryland Health Care System is focused on keeping its facilities a healthy shade of green that would impress even a frog.
With an array of new initiatives and systemic changes that build on projects launched in previous years, thanks to GEMS, the VA Maryland Health Care System has diverted approximately 1490.7 tons of waste from landfills to single-stream recycling since 2014 and Nutrition & Food Service has diverted approximately 275 tons of organic waste from inpatient trays from landfills to composting. Also, with the help of 80 VA Maryland employee volunteers, in 6 hours total, the GEMS team initiated and successfully completed three Perry Point VA Medical Center shoreline cleanup efforts in 2017 and 2018, collecting an impressive nearly 6 tons of debris, including plastic bottles, tires, large plastic barrels, and other sundry items. That’s approximately 1 ton per hour!
“The effort really began in earnest in 2014. In the past four or so years, we have made progress with a number of our initiatives. We recently started the single-stream recycling at the Baltimore VA Medical Center,” said Jen Dallaire, GEMS Coordinator. “We plan to be rolling out other initiatives, too.”
The GEMS committee does not work in a vacuum. In fact, it works in tandem with several services, including Environmental Management Services (EMS); Facilities & Engineering; Nutrition and Food; Pharmacy; Pathology and Laboratory; Research and Development; Nursing; Canteen; Emergency Management; and the Perry Point VA Medical Center Fire Department, among others. Representatives from each service as well as the chief of staff and VA Maryland Health Care System leadership meet each month in the GEMS Committee. The committee works together to establish objectives and initiatives and makes sure they are implemented and working smoothly.
“It’s a performance measure to make sure that we are green compliant,” said Jesse Ballard, deputy chief of EMS, whose led several green initiatives that have been tracked by the GEMS committee, such as Perry Point single-stream recycling and composting at Perry Point Nutrition & Food in conjunction with Mary Ellen Ward, Nutrition & Food representative on the GEMS Committee. “Over the past few years, we have made great strides in increasing our green compliance standing.”
EMS and GEMS does this in a myriad of ways. “We make sure to work with a forward-thinking vendor because that vendor helps us implement our green initiatives,” Ballard said.
This partnership demonstrated itself with the composting program, said Ballard
Also EMS plans to roll out other initiatives such as the streamlining recycling bins so that every facility within the health care system will be the same, noting that the newer containers can be tracked and monitored on spreadsheets.
Aside from consumer items, the VA Maryland Health Care System also recycles dental fillers, lead aprons, batteries, fluorescent light bulbs and for the past three years, the GEMS committee has hosted Earth Day events highlighting environmental programs and employee Earth Day cleanups. Other GEMS initiatives included Regulated Medical Waste improvements, led by Infection Control GEMS Committee representative, Dori Heath; and Waste Disposal Chart and Education for employees. Also, a new GEMS Coordinator, Joanna Oliveri, joined the VA Maryland Health Care System Green Team, bringing more than 19 years of environmental experience and education to the health care system. Oliveri will be in charge of environmental regulatory compliance and GEMS at the Baltimore and Loch Raven facilities and the community-based outpatient clinics.
“We plan to introduce more sustainable projects by working with the GEMS Committee to identify areas that need attention. Sometimes this is based on environmental laws and sometimes this is based on someone’s desire to make the VAMHCS greener and our actions more sustainable so that our Veteran patients, their families and anyone who visits can enjoy our facilities and the environment that surrounds them for generations to come,” said Dallaire.