Denise Choiniere, M.S., R.N.
Denise Choiniere, MS, RN, Cardiac Care Unit nurse and sustainability manager for UMMC, is currently heading the Medical Center's efforts to "reduce, reuse, and recycle." Because of her work, Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (MD H2E) has recognized UMMC as the leader in the statewide movement to adopt more environmentally sound practices.
In the interview below, Denise talks about her efforts to "green" UMMC and provides advice individuals can use to make their own homes and offices more environmentally friendly.
How did you become interested in helping the University of Maryland Medical Center "go green"?
Prior to coming to UMMC, I worked at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, VT. In Vermont, we recycled everything, and when I came to Maryland, I was surprised at the lack of recycling. I eventually tired of throwing away items that could be recycled and decided to make a change. I began collecting alkaline batteries on my unit, with the initial plan of bringing them to my local recycler. It was around this time that I met Leonard Taylor, Vice President of Facilities for UMMC, who was also interested in starting a recycling program at UMMC. We piloted alkaline battery recycling in the CCU and PCU even before the Green Team was even formed.
What are some of the benefits of UMMC becoming a "green" hospital for both its employees and patients?
There are many benefits of being "green," not only for employees and patients, but also for the public at large. When we use green cleaners within our walls, we are decreasing the amount of toxic chemicals employees and patients are exposed to. Over time, exposure to these toxic chemicals often lead to health problems such as asthma. Furthermore, when we decrease our waste and recycle more, we are decreasing our impact on the overall public's health. There is no such place as "away," so when we send out our waste, it is going into SOMEONE'S back yard, which also poses risks to public health. Lastly, by offering healthier food and more natural light, it is presumed that patients will recover faster.
What are "Green Teams"? What role do they play in helping raise environmental awareness at UMMC?
Green Teams are interdisciplinary teams that identify, plan and implement environmentally sustainable initiatives, such as waste reduction, energy conservation and environmentally preferable purchasing. The Green Teams at UMMC are really the driving force behind all of our environmental initiatives.
As a member of one UMMC Green Team, what "green" initiatives have you helped implement at the medical center?
As I mentioned, I started the alkaline battery recycling program. I have also engaged about 60 nurses with our greening efforts and organized the University Farmers' Market.
You mention playing a key role in the creation of the University Farmers' Market. Please talk about the goals and mission of the market, and how it's done to date.
The Farmers' Market took about a year to plan prior to opening. The goal of the market is to provide healthier food options to UMMC employees, patients, visitors, UMB staff and students and the larger community of Baltimore's West Side. When food is purchased locally, "food miles" are drastically reduced. On average, food travels approximately 1500 miles from farm to plate. When purchased locally, food travels only 50 miles, which cuts down considerably on air pollution. Additionally, food can be picked at its peak ripeness, offering more nutritional benefits and requiring less packaging. The farmers participating in our market also use minimal amounts (or no) pesticides. We opened the market this past May with six vendors, and are now up to 14 vendors. Our last day will be November 17, and we will re-open May 11.
How successful have your other initiatives been in helping UMMC become more "green"?
There are many success stories happening throughout the hospital. For example, the Food and Nutrition department just signed the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, committing to offering healthier foods by purchasing more local, nutritious, and sustainably produced food. The department participated in the Buy Local Challenge, and served one local food per day for a week in the cafe. In addition, the department also only purchases single dispensing condiments and plastic ware for the cafe, thus minimizing waste and trash.
Furthermore, the waste separation program is also being quickly implemented, and we are beginning to look at our purchasing practices, purchasing those items that are free of potentially hazardous chemicals, are made out of recycled products, or can be recycled when discarded.
Have any patients or co-workers expressed their appreciation to you for your efforts in helping UMMC "go green"?
I have received many compliments from hospital employees about the work I have been doing. Many see it as important work, and are glad to see that I am doing it.
What advice would you give other health care professionals who want to help their own medical centers "go green"?
I would advise them to just start. Find some colleagues that share their passion and get to work. There are many resources out there for people who want to "green" their hospital, so tap into them.
How important is it that people, as individuals, take steps to "go green"?
Everyone has a part to play when it comes to conserving the earth's resources. This is not something we do for ourselves, but for our children, and our children's children.
Do you practice any "green" habits at home?
I do my best to practice what I preach. I do eat local, organic foods, recycle and conserve energy where I can. I try and set a good example for my children.
Could you offer any advice to average individuals seeking to make "green" changes at home?
Changes can begin as simply as turning off the lights when leaving a room, not letting the water run when it's unnecessary, and shutting down computers. Many counties now offer curbside pick-up for recycling, so I encourage people to look into what is available to them and take advantage of it.