June 30, 2014

CleanMed, the nation’s premier conference on health care and sustainability, was held in Cleveland the first week in June—and reached a new attendance record this year with over 800 participants! CleanMed is convened and organized jointly each year by Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm.

Throughout the conference, CleanMed attendees discussed health care’s most pressing sustainability issues: reducing toxics and chemicals of concern, sourcing and purchasing environmentally preferable medical products, providing patients, staff and families with sustainable, local food choices, reducing energy and water use and better waste management through recycling, reprocessing of medical instruments and smarter supply chain management. The conference also included an exhibition featuring over 60 companies and organizations showcasing the latest products and services for sustainability in health care. As happens every year, Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm gave out yearly awards to more than 300 winners for leadership in sustainability at the individual, facility and health system level.

Our own Lucia Sayre and Sapna Thottathil represented SF Bay Area PSR at the conference, and each moderated and presented at panel sessions focused on the healthy food in health care work that has been so key to hospital sustainability efforts.

Sapna moderated the panel “Balanced Menus; Addressing Antibiotics Resistance and Climate Change in the Cafeteria.” Panel speakers addressed how and why hospitals can and should reduce the amount of meat on their menus and serve more sustainable protein options, including meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Lucia moderated and presented on “A Menu of Options: Building a Healthier Food System,” focused on the variety of ways in which the health care sector and individual hospitals help contribute to the development of healthier food production, processing, distribution practices.

Lucia also organized and helped to facilitate a pre-conference meeting of over 50 representatives from health care leadership, several Group Purchasing Organizations, food distributors and food service contractor companies, School Food FOCUS, and Real Food Challenge. This meeting was the third in a series of discussions designed to build a national collaborative among the health care sector, K-12 public schools and university/college campuses that is dedicated to coordinated sustainable food procurement, with an initial focus on the procurement of meat products produced without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics.

A significant announcement made at the CleanMed conference this year came from Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit health management organization in the U.S. Kaiser announced that the organization will stop buying furniture treated with flame retardants, chemicals still common in homes, offices and child care centers throughout the U.S. Flame retardants have been linked to cancer, reproductive disorders and brain damage in children, among other ills.

“Our mission is the health of our patients and of our communities — and that mission includes paying attention to pollutants that can cause illness,” Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente, said during a media call at the conference. “We are the first health care system to make this change,” she added, “but we expect many more announcements to be forthcoming.”

Kaiser alone wields significant purchasing power. Roughly $30 million a year is spent to furnish its 38 hospitals and 600 medical office buildings in eight states, as well as the District of Columbia.

CleanMed 2015 is scheduled for May 12-15th in Portland, Oregon next year, and that there will be a concerted effort to include both a robust Healthy Food in Health Care program track as well as increased attention to a growing clinical audience. SF Bay Area PSR staff will be working closely with Oregon PSR staff to coordinate these efforts for next year’s conference.