New Zealand Postcards: The Greening of Hospitals

1981Sustainable health care has the triple aim of maximizing benefits (and minimizing or mitigating costs) in environmental, economic, and social realms.

According to a 2012 Commonwealth Fund study “Can Sustainable Hospitals Bend the Health Care Cost Curve?” (S. Kaplan, et al.), U.S. health systems (especially hospitals) leave costly environmental footprints. In this report, the authors cite estimates that U.S. hospitals use 836 trillion British thermal units of energy and spend over $10 billion on energy annually–resulting in 8% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 7% of our total carbon dioxide emissions. Hospitals also generate 6,600 tons of waste every day (resulting in more energy consumption, as well as methane gas production) and utilize large quantities of toxic chemicals. They identified model ‘greening the hospitals’ initiatives across the U.S from the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and Health Care Without Harm’s Practice Greenhealth program. Based on the costs/benefits of these model hospital programs, the Commonwealth Fund researchers estimate that such interventions could result in health care savings in excess of $5.4 billion over five years. Good for the economy and good for Mother Earth and good (health promoting) for patients, staff, and the community.

Debbie Wilson, a New Zealand nurse, doctoral candidate, and Sustainability Officer with the Manukau Health District in Auckland, tells the story of how she and a few other environmentally-conscious nurse colleagues  “rugby tackled the hospital CEO” in the hallway one day to present their concerns to him. “He rather liked it because he’s Welsh.” I assume she is referring to the rugby tackle health policy/advocacy approach and not to any inherent Welsh environmental enlightenment. But their rugby tackle worked and they now have a robust sustainability program underway. They began by working to raise awareness of the issues with hospital and clinic staff, which included measuring their baseline environmental footprint: (measurement + transparency= awareness). They’ve set their goal of a 20% footprint reduction by 2017 and are now in the process of writing a systems-wide sustainability policy. Nurses and health policy/health in all policies and advocacy at work!

I met Debbie Wilson last week at the University of Otago’s public health summer school where she was one of the key presenters. In talking with her afterwards, she told me about the model greening of hospitals initiative at Seattle Children’s Hospital. I admit that I didn’t know much about this model program that is quite literally in my own backyard.

Seattle Children’s Clean, Green Initiative was launched in 2007 and has already won Environmental Excellence national awards. Of note among their multiple and comprehensive greening the hospital programs are: 1) switching to environmentally (and health) friendly cleaning products; 2) providing monetary incentives for staff members to walk/bike/bus it to work; 3) piloting a switch to organic cotton hospital linens (including lab coats); and, 4) reducing food waste/increasing composting and recycling in their hospital kitchen (as well as increasing use of fresh, locally-sourced fruits and vegetables).

Radical Hat-Burning Nurses Unite!

IMG_1082Radical nurses are back, or perhaps they never left and are just becoming more visible, more organized. The photo here is of my nurse’s cap-wearing trained seal mascot given to me by a friend in nursing school–who promptly dropped out of school because she was too radical for them.

There is the Radical Nurse on Facebook (aka Rebekah Dubrosky, RN) who says of herself, “Radical nurse goes to graduate school with hopes of starting a nursing revolution!” Her profile photo is of the formidable radical nurse and mother of public health nursing, Lillian Wald. Ms. Dubrosky is a doctoral student in the College of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. She just published a very good article “Iris Young’s Five Faces of Oppression Applied to Nursing” (Nursing Forum vol 48(3):205-210, July/Sept 2013).

There is the newly-formed Rebellious Nursing! group, which had its first national conference this past fall in Philadelphia. They state: “We believe that Nursing is an inherently political profession and that all nurses are rebellious.” I’m not sure I agree with their tag line, but I do love their logo of a white nurse’s cap going up in flames. An extension of the bra-burning second wave feminists and the corset-burning first-wave feminists. The third-wave feminists seem to have nothing left to burn so they’re putting the push-up bras and corsets back on. (Just kidding. Don’t burn me all you wonderful third-wave feminists–including my former nursing student who introduced me to Rebellious Nursing!).

Going back to the second-wave feminists, there was Casandra: Radical Feminist Nurses Network from the 1980’s. Some of their old newsletters are on Peggy Chinn’s blog, NurseManifest. Peggy Chinn, RN, PhD, is Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut, but she will never truly retire.

There were also Radical Nurse Groups (RNGs) active in the 1980’s within the UK. A nurse blogger who goes by the pseudonym Grumbling Appendix (gotta love British humor) and who works in an NHS hospital (hence the need for a pseudonym), is now archiving material for the RNG’s. In the recent post in the New Left forum, Grumbling Appendix makes the observation that some things have not changed much. I love the Radical Nurses Archive: So….Just How Radical Are You? It includes a funny-sad multiple-choice test from 1982 (when I graduated from wretched nursing school wearing a wretched nurse’s cap), although I need a Brit to help interpret the final scoring scheme.

For an amazing blast from the past that is also sobering in terms of how little things have changed, take a look at the 20 minute film The Politics of Caring from 1977 (produced, directed, and edited by Joan Finck and Timothy Sawyer in collaboration with Karen Wolf, RN.) It is posted on Peggy Chinn’s NurseManifest blog. The only difference between then and now that I see is that the nurses then were still wearing white nurse’s caps (non-flaming) and white dress uniforms (and oh my! those disgusting thick white opaque pantyhose that kept the oh my! pubic hairs from dropping off onto the operating room floor!) There’s something about ‘radical’ and the use of exclamation points….

In the film they begin by saying that while nurses are the largest component of the healthcare workforce they have the least say in health policy. Familiar? They discuss the disconnect between what is taught in nursing school about providing quality of care, and the reality of what is possible within the practice environment. (I hear this from my students all the time). They also question whether nursing can even be called a profession when the majority of nurses don’t have control over their work environments. And they discuss the tensions within nursing with the then newly-emerging role of advance practice nurses/nurse practitioners, pointing out (somewhat rightly so) that these ‘new nurses’ were mainly working within the medical model of care.

As a community health nurse I was fascinated to hear the nurses in the film talk about “the mecca of community nursing” as a place where nurses could practice ‘real nursing’ focusing on health prevention and promotion within the nursing model of care. Community health is what attracted me to nursing in the first place and it continues to be what I love most about my work. But we need hospital nurses and there are nurses who love working in hospitals and don’t want to have to ‘trade up’ to community health, or to become a nurse practitioner or a nursing professor in order to have greater control over their working conditions. Besides unions and Radical Nursing! groups, what is there for them?

Devilsih Dealings in Hospital Mergers

devilish latte
devilish latte (Photo credit: strikeseason)

Hospital mergers between faith-based (mainly Catholic) and secular healthcare systems are picking up speed and setting off more alarm bells across the country. Here in my home state of Washington–one of our nation’s most secular and socially progressive states–we are quickly becoming the state with the largest percentage of Catholic hospitals. If all of the pending hospital mergers go through, more than half of all hospital beds in Washington State will be in Catholic hospitals. How can this be?

In my previous blog post “God and Mary and Jesus are back….and Coming to a Hospital Near You” (February 27, 2012) I wrote about the concerns raised by the merger of Seattle-based secular Swedish Hospital with Seattle-based (Catholic) Providence Health and Services. As part of the merger deal Swedish Hospital dropped its abortion services. Since the merger, employees have reported they are not allowed to talk with or refer patients for pregnancy termination or give patients resources about our state’s Death with Dignity Act. There are also concerns voiced about the merger’s effect on access to and quality of health care for LGBTQ individuals.

My own physician is part of Swedish and I’ve had conversations with her about whether or not my end-of-life wishes/Advance Directives would be honored if I ended up in a Providence/Swedish hospital. I considered switching health care providers, but now most all in the Seattle area are affiliated with Catholic hospital systems. Even the University of Washington Medical Center is merging/affiliating with PeaceHealth, a large Catholic healthcare system. You have to wonder about these names. Who can argue (especially all of us Pacific Northwest hippies) with a name like PeaceHealth?

As I stated in my previous post– I am all for religious freedom. But I also believe that the separation of church and state goes both ways—not only protecting the
church/religion from the bully-power of the state, but also the state
(government and civil society) from the bully-power of the church.

The ACLU of Washington has taken up the issue of hospital mergers and hosted an excellent panel discussion last week on this topic at Town Hall, Seattle. You can hear a full recording of it here. The audience Q&A session was the most interesting part of it for me. Someone asked why no hospital administrators were on the panel. The answer from the organizers was that they wanted an educational forum and not a public debate–and that hospital administrators had ample resources and platforms already for voicing ‘their side’ of the issue. A woman asked what the ramifications will be for health science student education at University of Washington with the merger/affiliation with PeaceHealth. Two of the panelists were UW faculty members and one replied, laughingly, that they weren’t authorized to answer that question. How sad and how telling and oh how political health care is in our country.

Hospital Quality: A Different View

Paul Farmer (of Partners in Health fame) has an easy-to-apply formula for DSC00749quickly assessing the quality of hospitals or clinics anywhere in the world. He says that given the resources of the country, he looks at the quality of the hospital/clinic bathrooms and the gardens surrounding it. Based on just those two items, he claims he can accurately assess overall hospital/clinic quality—and afterwards correlate it with more ‘objective’ measures of quality and safety. Try out his quality assessment at your own hospital/clinic work-site, and maybe as a New Year’s resolution try to influence improvements.

My office at work is in the world’s largest university building: the Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Building at the University of Washington. The building has close to 6,000, 000 square feet of space and is composed of over twenty wings whose hallways are connected, but in a haphazard, disorienting way. The building is an Escher-esque sort of place, with faceless people wandering the hallways and strange concrete staircases going everywhere and nowhere. Ten thousand or so people work (or are hospital patients) in this building. At any given time at least half of the people are lost. I am usually one of them. The building includes a hospital and four health science schools—medicine, nursing, public health and dentistry. The fifth health science school—social work—was lucky and is far across campus in its own (very small) building.

The Health Sciences Building is sandwiched between three busy streets and one busy ship canal. Many of its courtyards are completely covered in concrete, with only a few stalwart and scraggly rhododendrons popping up in places. The bathrooms are tiled and painted a sickly yellow-beige that reminds me of public high school gym locker rooms.

My office is in the ugliest wing of the world’s largest university building. My office has a fault line running through it. There is a 6-inch wide grey rubber seam that bisects my office in two—it runs up one wall, across the ceiling, down the other wall, and across the floor. This rubber seam is the building’s earthquake shock absorbers. I often wonder what it would be like to stand on the fault line during an earthquake. Would I be safer there than ducking under my fake-wood desk? My office also has a door that goes nowhere. Supposedly it allows access to various pipes and electrical wires in the concrete-encased outer phalanges of the building. This door is perpetually locked and I have hung a silk scarf over it to make it seem less weird. I tell students it’s where old faculty members go to die. I often want to crawl in there and take a nap.

The particular part of the Health Sciences building I work in, the T-wing, was built in the late 1960’s and is a prime example of Brutalism. It is also a prime example of why Brutalism is not an architectural style suited either for Seattle weather or for being attached to a hospital. Outside and inside it appears to be made of crumbling, damp and moldy concrete. In one staircase I use there are arm-sized stalactites forming on the ceiling and liquid is perpetually dripping from their pointed ends into a black and green puddle in one corner of a stair landing. It has a bizarre beauty. Over Winter Break the stalactites were removed and the ceiling painted over. I find that I miss them.

University of Washington Medical Center does fairly well on most quality measures included in Medicare’s Hospital Compare. Under ‘patient satisfaction survey’ they include an item on cleanliness of bathrooms. (Gardens aren’t included). If you haven’t used this website before, I encourage you to do a search of hospitals in your area. They have recently added a section on hospital readmission rates.

Hospital Dirty Laundry Exposed

Laundry
Laundry (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

Julie Creswell and Reed Abelson of the NYT are writing a series of fascinating articles exposing hospital giant HCA (Hospital Corporation of America), now the largest for-profit hospital chain in the US. Their NYT article today “A Giant Hospital Chain is Blazing a Profit Trail” finally explains to me the story behind the strange digital billboards I saw in June when I was visiting my father in Richmond, Virginia. They seemed to be everywhere along major roads, flashing obnoxious red-lighted wait times for the emergency rooms at two HCA hospitals–one being CJW, which the NYT article calls out as being one of the worst hospitals in the US in terms of bedsores (bedsores being a fairly good indicator of poor nursing care).

Last week (8-6-12, “Hospital Chain Inquiry Cited Unnecessary Cardiac Work) they wrote about a whistleblower, C.T. Tomlinson, a traveling nurse, who in 2010 worked as a cardiac nurse at the Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Florida. Tomlinson was present in the cardiac catheterization lab when an HCA cardiologist inserted a stent into a patient who did not need it. Tomlinson reported the incident to his nursing supervisor who supposedly told him to forget about it. So he wrote a letter to the chief ethics officer of HCA’s hospitals in Florida who investigated his complaints and found them to be substantiated. Soon after Tomlinson wrote the letter of complaint, his contract to work as a nurse with HCA was terminated. It is not clear from the article whether or not he has filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination under Whistleblower protection. The HCA chief ethics officer’s investigation found that about half of all the cardiac catheterizations at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center were unnecessary, but did not alert the patients involved. It is unclear how many patients may have been harmed by the unnecessary cardiac work they had done. HCA also did not alert Medicare, state Medicaid or private insurers who were charged for the expensive procedures.

 

Bedside Nursing

British nurse in nurses' station.
British nurse in nurses’ station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Theresa Brown, RN has a new NYT monthly opinion piece column called “Bedside.” In a recent e-mail, Theresa describes her column as, “…a nurse’s eye view on ways to make health care better and more humane.” In her debut piece “Money or Your Life” (6-23-12/print version 6-24-12 in Sunday Week in Review section), she argues for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) based on her work as a hospital-based oncology nurse. She describes working with an uninsured male patient with leukemia who asked her about death panels, hoping they existed. It seemed he wanted to be put out of his misery, while avoiding bankrupting his family. Ms. Brown then does a good job of describing some of the complexities of–and the argument for–the individual mandate component of the ACA. This, of course, is a key element of the ACA, and one before the US Supreme Court as to its constitutionality. Their decision is due out this week.

Congratulations Theresa Brown! And thanks NYT editors for recognizing and including a nursing perspective on the continuing health care debate in our country.

Since this is a blog, and since Theresa Brown asked for feedback on her new column, I offer a few reflections. The name “Bedside,” as in bedside nursing, implies direct patient care in an inpatient hospital setting. As such, it is descriptive of the type of nursing Theresa Brown is involved with. But bedside nursing is a term often used as code for “real nursing,” as if community/public health, home health, school and occupational health, and nursing home nurses are somehow not real nurses. The name “Bedside” also perpetuates the notion that nurses spend the most time with patients of any health care team member, and are, therefore, in the best position to advocate for patient’s needs. This belief undermines patient care and safety by working against good health care team communication. It is a paternalistic (maternalistic?) belief that undermines the patient autonomy and agency central to patient-centered care. The belief is also not supported by facts.

Recent studies indicate that hospital-based nurses consistently (and significantly) overestimate the amount of time they spend on direct patient care. Whereas many nurses ‘guesstimate’ they spend over half their time during a given shift on direct patient care, national studies (sophisticated versions of time/motion studies) indicate that hospital nurses spend just 15% of their time in direct patient care. (see RWJ study by Hendrich, et al, “A 36-hospital time and motion study: how do medical-surgical nurses spend their time?” The Permanente Journal, Summer 2008) The largest percentage of their time was spent on charting and other administrative tasks. And a recent study found that physician hospitalists also spent 15% of their time in direct patient care (“Hospitalist time useage and cyclicality: opportunities to improve efficiency” Kim, et al. Journal of Hospital Medicine, July/Aug 2010). So nurses’ time-honored claim to spending the most time at a patient’s bedside is no longer true.

Then there is the fact that hospital-based jobs for nurses are rapidly disappearing as hospital administrators reduce their nursing staff, and as more hospitals merge or close altogether. Some experts claim that one-third of all hospitals in the US will close by 2020 (see David Houle and Jonathan Fleece’s post on KevinMD. 3-15-12)

Bedside nursing is probably a term that needs to be, well, put to sleep.

 

Hospital and Doctor Compare: Patient Beware

Patient Recognition Month Poster
Patient Recognition Month Poster (Photo credit: Army Medicine)

Nurse and NYT’s Well Blog contributor Theresa Brown has a NYT Op-ed piece today entitled “Hospitals Aren’t Hotels,” in which she states “…the growing focus on measuring ‘patient satisfaction’ as a way to judge the quality of a hospital’s care is worrisomely off the mark.” She points to the patient satisfaction section of The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s Hospital Compare website, where consumers can look up individual hospital quality of care information. Based on Medicare patient data and hospital reporting mechanisms, Hospital Compare includes process and outcome of medical care measures, use of medical imaging, patient safety measures, Medicare payment/volume, as well as a 10-item survey of patient’s hospital experiences.

It is instructive to note that patient satisfaction is only one of six categories of quality of care data on Hospital Compare from which consumers can make more informed medical care decisions. Obviously it is only useful for planned procedures and hospitalizations, since patients having a heart attack aren’t likely to stop and look up Hospital Compare data on their iPads. I used Hospital Compare several years ago when my sister asked my advice as to Seattle-area hospital choices for her planned abdominal hernia repair. At the time, Swedish Hospital had the highest volumes and best patient outcomes (including patient safety) for this surgical procedure, so my sister then picked a surgeon from their list. She had a decent hospital experience. Today for grins I pretended I needed to have laparoscopic gallbladder removal (I don’t) and ‘shopped’ for Seattle-area hospitals based on this specific procedure. Of the three geographically closest hospitals—Group Health Central, Northwest, and University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC), Group Health came out the clear winner overall for quality of care measures that are most meaningful to me: patient safety (UWMC is worse than national average for hospital acquired conditions such as infections and things besides vital organs left in after surgery—and for the ominous sounding “accidental cuts and tears from medical treatment”), having medications explained to me before they are given, nurses and doctors who communicate with patients well, and the area around patient rooms being quiet at night.

It can be and is argued that patient satisfaction with care is not a valid measure of outcome of medical care. I know from teaching that I can make my students happy and get high ‘student satisfaction’ with teaching scores, and still not have done my job of actually teaching them anything of importance. In her NYT Op-ed piece today, Ms. Brown uses an example of an elderly cancer patient who was told by the hospital oncologist that he was basically too old to qualify for treatment and was sent home. He may have not scored that hospital very high on his Medicare hospital survey, since he didn’t get what he wanted. Ms. Brown links to a recent study by Joshua Fenton at UC Davis showing that higher patient satisfaction scores with individual doctors was linked with greater use of hospital services (higher medical cost) and increased mortality. To me that’s a no-brainer and points to the danger of overuse of health care—more health care is not better health care, and health care can be dangerous to your health.

US doctors have been fighting consumer ratings of individual doctors. (see Ron Lieber’s “The Web is awash in reviews, but not for doctors. Here’s why.” NYT, 3-9-12) The developer of the online RateMyProfessors.com site created RateMDs.com. RateMDs.com now includes ratings of close to 1.4 million physicians in the US and Canada. The founder of RateMDs.com gets at least one lawsuit threat a week from physicians who don’t like what’s been posted about them. A physician reputation management service, Medical Justice, set up a system whereby physicians had patients sign a “no web posting opinions of the doctor” agreement in exchange for enhanced patient privacy protections. That’s almost like a restaurant owner asking you to sign an agreement not to post a review on Yelp in exchange for not putting flies in your soup. The Medical Justice system collapsed after a complaint was filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

Insurance companies and health plans collect consumer ratings and medical outcomes data for individual doctors and other providers, but they don’t make these data available to consumers. With the Affordable Care Act/health care reform, starting January 1, 2013, Medicare will be required to provide consumers more information on doctors as well as on hospitals. (As of this writing, they have a “Physician Compare” site, but it only allows searches to find physicians who accept Medicare.) I disagree with Theresa Brown on this issue. I think that patient satisfaction as one aspect of judging the quality of hospital or other medical care is essential for improving our health care system. It is an essential component of patient-centered care.