“Primum non nocere.” 

Doctors and nurses have learned this Latin phrase.  In English, it translates to “First, do no harm.”  It guides health care professionals to avoid harm to their patients and now healthcare organizations are applying it to broader efforts to protect patients and public health.

VA employees have embraced this challenge and we are proud to announce that VA has just received nationwide recognition for efforts to achieve sustainable health care.  VA energy and environmental professionals are minimizing the use of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste.  They are improving building systems to maximize patient comfort, while improving energy efficiency to reduce pollution.  Meanwhile, VA employees in various positions are also contributing, from transforming on-campus plowing to improve efficiency, safety, and reduce salt pollution, to creating Veteran-run farmer’s markets to provide patients with healthy food and a welcoming community gathering.

Dick Hofman, acting program manager for VA’s Green Environmental Management Systems Program, stated, “We’re making the facilities sustainable, we’re reducing the costs of operations, which gives us more funding for patient care.  We’re making the environment around the workplace and within the medical centers safer and healthier.”

The healthcare non-profit group Practice Greenhealth annually recognizes hospitals for their achievements in sustainable healthcare, with an organizational goal of “Sustainable health care that’s good for the environment, good for patients and staff and good for the bottom line.”  The awards nomination requires rigorous documentation of efforts in many areas, including chemicals, energy, water, waste, food, and more.

This year, so many VA medical centers were recognized with awards that the entire Veterans Health Administration won the “System for Change” Award, for efforts and successes across the organization.

Thirty-one facilities were recognized with “Partner for Change” awards for “significant” programs. Fifteen facilities were recognized for “superior” programs with the Environmental Excellence Awards.  Four VA facilities were named “Top 25” award winners, recognizing the nation’s best 25 programs.

View the full lists of winners.

James Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where Tim Blackburn is a Green Environmental Management Systems Coordinator, was named “Top 25” for the third consecutive year, an unmatched achievement.  Blackburn assisted many of his VA colleagues with their applications, a process in which the work of documentation itself facilitates improved environmental management.  “It’s recognition that a facility whose primary goal is healthcare for Veterans can do so in a way that is extremely protective of the environment we all live in and do both well,” Blackburn said.

About the author: Ben Carlson leads sustainability employee engagement focused on mission-serving outcomes, including employee projects, outreach, and leadership engagement, for VA’s Green Management Program.

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Published on Jun. 2, 2016

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