Polish Your Skills, Save the Planet
Southern California EVS teams go green with new certificate program
Cutting waste and saving money for Kaiser Permanente members and patients is good. But 350 Environmental Service workers in Southern California are taking that mission a step further by tending to Mother Earth as well.
Kaiser Permanente and two Labor Management Partnership-funded workforce development trusts are among the health care partners nationwide that are training frontline workers and managers in improved recycling, waste disposal, energy conservation and other green practices. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Healthcare Career Advancement Program, a national partnership of unions and hospitals, are leading the effort.
“‘Carbon footprint’ is a phrase that’s thrown around a lot,” says Milford “Leroy” Alaman, EVS operations manager at the Los Angeles Medical Center. “Now our staff is able to understand that when you are talking about conserving energy, water and electricity, you are talking about looking at the resources we have in our facility and holding on to just what we need instead of creating more waste for us and the planet.”
Leading change at work
Along the way, these “green teams” also are reducing operating costs, enhancing employee skills and morale, and improving patient and workplace safety.
For example, the EVS department is now using environmentally friendly microfiber mops to clean a single patient room. This has the benefit of not spreading infections between rooms and preventing lifting and straining injuries caused by wringing traditional mops and hauling buckets of water.
The department also has started a project that is reducing the cost and trouble of replacing the 500 D-cell batteries used in the hospital restrooms’ automatic towel dispensers. The traditional batteries wore out in a matter of weeks—costing about $3,000 a year to replace and adding some 6,000 batteries a year to local waste or reprocessing streams. Starting in February 2012, workers installed new rechargeable batteries. Overall, EVS' green projects, including the use of rechargeable batteries, are saving an estimated $12,000 a year.
Enhancing skills, raising sights
“I feel better having conversations with anyone…doctors, nurses, I can tell them how to be green,” says EVS attendant Jose Velasco, an SEIU UHW member and a recent graduate of a green certification course offered at West Los Angeles Community College.
The program also was piloted at KP Riverside Medical Center, where the EVS unit-based team is reaching out to others with its newfound expertise. Now an EVS member is embedded with the Operating Room UBT—with others to follow—to help tackle waste and hygiene problems there.
The SEIU UHW-West & Joint Employer Education Fund and the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust have helped underwrite the cost of the training for Kaiser Permanente’s LMP-represented workers. Eventually, frontline workers may be able to use their certifications for higher pay and promotions as medical center “green leads,” a program that would be negotiated between KP and the unions.
But the training already is making a difference to workers as well as to KP and the community. “They have more tools, more knowledge, so they are able to catch things,” says Angel Pacheco, management co-lead of the EVS UBT at Riverside. “We talked about saving the environment for future generations.”
estimated annual savings by switching from D-cell to rechargeable batteries