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Hospital honored for commitment to environment

Brandy Kolmer
Special to The Union
Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Dignity Health, and Erin Silverman, BSN, of Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (7th and 8th from the left in blue and black, respectively) join other members of the Dignity Health system honored by Practice Greenhealth.
Submitted photo

On May 9, Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Nurse Erin Silverman, BSN, accepted the Practice Greenhealth Partner for Change Award in San Diego on behalf of SNMH.

The national award honors hospitals which are successfully reducing their environmental impact.

According to Practice Greenhealth, winning facilities recycle at least 15 percent of their total waste, reduce medical waste and the use of mercury, and source products sustainably at the hospital.

Silverman, who acts as the nurse champion of greening efforts at the hospital, shares that there is much more going on at our hospital.

“We believe that we can heal our patients and the environment simultaneously. It doesn’t make sense to help heal our friends and neighbors, yet harm the environment we all live in. We have to do both.”

Silverman leads the staff-driven Green Team, which is a committee focused on environmental efforts at the hospital.

One of the team’s projects connects surplus medical supplies and equipment with communities in need around the world. Dignity Health partners with the nonprofit humanitarian aid organization MedShare to collect and deliver these items.

“Basically, we’re diverting clean, reusable medical products – no pharmaceuticals or expired products – from our local landfills to disaster relief and third world areas,” said Silverman.

According to Silverman, the hospital has also transitioned the majority of its lighting to energy efficient LED lights.

However, the projects closest to Silverman’s heart are the team’s efforts to forge a strong connection between the hospital and local food growers.

“I believe one of the most effective preventative medicines we have is the food that we eat,” she said.

In 2015, the Green Team helped the hospital become a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) drop off site for Mountain Bounty Farms, which delivers boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to staff and community members each week.

Silverman recently joined the board of directors at Sierra Harvest, and the hospital has begun featuring a “harvest of the month” to introduce hospital café guests to locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Silverman credits hospital leadership for the success of these unique environmental programs.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without their support. (Hospital President) Kathy Medeiros and our leaders allow me to devote several hours each week to greening efforts. They stand behind it, and our employees feel like we’re making a difference and changing the world,” said Silverman.

Silverman’s passion for protecting the environment started early. She grew up on her grandmother’s 160-acre bird ranch with no electricity or running water, and fondly remembers gathering eggs, being read to by lamp light, and receiving baths in a tin tub in the kitchen.

“I grew up walking around the ranch in the dark. I still love the comforting sound of owls at night. I think it gave me a true appreciation for nature,” she says.

There’s no sign of Silverman’s passion waning. She is now part of a larger, Dignity Health system-wide committee which is tasked with designing the language to include environmental protection in the Dignity Health strategic plan.

“Our purchasing power is incredible. We have already affected change by demanding better products and ways of doing things,” said Silverman.

As an example, Dignity Health has switched to personal care products like basins and bedpans that don’t use harmful dyes and removed cleaning products that were harmful to oceans and rivers.

Silverman shared that the personal care products provided at Dignity Health hospitals are now made from 100 percent recycled blue wrap medical waste, which is the packaging that comes with surgical kits.

“This is a huge achievement by Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, the Ecology Director for Dignity Health,” said Silverman.

Another project ahead for the SNMH Green Team includes planning an organic community garden.

“The Partner for Change Award is really an assessment tool. We have to change the way we treat ourselves, and our planet,” said Silverman. “And we have so much power to do it.”

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