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Archive September 2020 XXI, No. 9

Environmental Stewardship: A Group Effort to Go Green

The entire team at the Ambulatory Surgical Center at St. Cloud VA Health Care System is committed to reducing the facility's environmental footprint.

Jared Bilski


The Ambulatory Surgical Center at St. Cloud (Minn.) VA Health Care System.
THAT'S A WRAP Brenda Schoenberg, RN (left), and Jody Wessel, LPN, CST, CRMST, package the leftover blue wrap for instrument trays and basin sets before it's shipped off to be recycled.

The Ambulatory Surgical Center at St. Cloud (Minn.) VA Health Care System drastically reduced surgical waste by listening to new ideas and fresh feedback from its staff. “We always make it a priority to ensure everybody’s voice is heard,” says Jody L. Wessel, LPN, CRMST, a certified surgical technologist at the Ambulatory Surgical Center, in reference to the facility’s environmental efforts. “That way anyone can come forward and say, ‘This seems like a waste, what can we do to repurpose it?’”

The staff’s efforts to go green earned the facility this year’s OR Excellence Award for Environmental Stewardship. Ms. Wessel says their collaborative approach is the direct result of how the facility structured its green OR initiatives, which began around six years ago at the suggestion of the facility’s industrial hygienist. One of the first actions the facility took was the formation of a core group to review and identify anything that could be recycled, reused or repurposed. In addition to Ms. Wessel, the group included an anesthesiologist, an orthopedic surgeon, a nurse, a surgical tech and a nursing assistant.

“Once we got buy in from that core group in the ambulatory surgery department, they promoted it among everyone within their areas and then we got leadership to embrace the idea,” says Ms. Wessel.

The facility’s first conservation project was conservative in scope. “We simply cut down on paper usage from charting,” says Ms. Wessel.

However, with a diverse group of staff given full access to make their carbon-reducing ideas known, it wasn’t long before the green program took off. The facility’s many initiatives are proof that ideas can come from anywhere and anyone — you just have to be willing to listen and act upon them.

  • Vial and cap recycling. Both medication vials and their corresponding caps are recycled and reused in a manner that benefits both the planet and patients. Vial caps are distributed to St. Cloud’s Occupational and Recreational Departments to aid in the recovery of stroke patients, veterans and those enrolled in the facility’s adult daycare. “The patients practice pulling out the caps by size to strengthen their finger dexterity or sort them by color to help with cognitive issues,” says Ms. Wessel. Adult daycare patients use vial caps to create art by gluing the different colors and shapes to a canvas to make creations as abstract as Jackson Pollock or as well-known as an American Flag. The impetus for the idea? A staff member was cruising Pinterest and thought it would be an awesome way to recycle biocaps.
The Ambulatory Surgical Center at St. Cloud (Minn.) VA Health Care System.
TEAM GREEN (left to right) Maureen Koepp, CST; Mark Johnson, CST; Brenda Schoenberg, RN; Jody Wessel, CST; Chelsie Meemken, RN; Sherry Gillitzer; and Amy Guzy, CST.

The medication vial cap project struck a chord with Ms. Wessel on a human level. “When my co-worker and I actually saw a veteran working with the materials we were saving, it was a very rewarding moment for me,” she says. “The patient was working on sizing and separating the vials, and even though recycling the items can be a tedious process, it was powerful to see firsthand that we were contributing to his rehab.”

  • Bye-bye blue wrap. After the Ambulatory Surgical Center analyzed the waste generated from blue wrap used on OR instruments, it converted more than 80% of its trays to a reusable metal container system. The remaining blue wrap is recycled, which is impressive considering there is no recycling facility in the city. Staff has to load excess wrap onto a courier bus that goes to the Minneapolis VA for distribution to appropriate recycling centers.
  • Alternate use for bubble wrap. When cataract supplies come packaged in bubble wrap, the wrap is saved and given to the pharmacy department, which uses it to mail out medications.

From eliminating and reducing anesthetic gases to installing LED lighting and motion sensors in order to cut down on energy consumption to separating and recycling surgical supplies, there are a slew of additional environmentally friendly actions the facility puts into practice each day. As Ms. Wessel says, “Our entire staff has taken the recycle, repurpose, reuse mantra to heart.” OSM

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