This August, Connecticut Mental Health Center (CMHC) became the first mental health center in the nation to join the Healthier Hospitals Initiatives (HHI). With this exciting move, it joins a growing list of health care organizations dedicated to implementing sustainable practices, improving patient, worker, and community health, and reducing costs.
"HHI will help us build a model community mental health center, one that practices sustainability on many levels," said Michael J. Sernyak, MD, the Center's CEO. "We know that physical and mental health are connected, and we look forward to meeting HHI's challenges for the benefit of our patients, staff, and community."
HHI is a nationwide campaign to improve environmental health and sustainability within the health care sector. Responding to the fact that 75% of health care costs are due to preventable chronic diseases and that the current health care system is not always economically or environmentally sustainable, HHI aims to make tangible changes within the sector which will ultimately help reduce the incidence of illnesses—including respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes—and build better health for all.
More Than Just a Pledge
To join, health care providers must agree to embrace specific challenges and work toward concrete goals. Choosing from HHI's list of focus areas, CMHC signed on to the Healthier Foods: Healthy Beverage Challenge, and the Engaged Leadership Challenge.
With the Healthy Beverage Challenge, CMHC's goal is to increase healthy beverage purchases by 20% of the Center's total beverage purchases over the first year. HHI's list of healthy beverages includes water, certified organic skim or 1% milk, coffee, tea, seltzer, and 100% fruit juice with no sugar added (4 oz serving). It's no surprise that sugar-sweetened beverages are off the list entirely, due to the recently established link between Americans' high-sugar diets and several devastating and costly chronic diseases.
With the Engaged Leadership Challenge, CMHC committed to creating an environmental steering committee with routine meetings, providing a feedback mechanism for sustainability initiatives, and participating in programs to support employee and community engagement.
Health care leaders from around the country have played an important role in designing HHI. Gary Cohen, Founder and President of Health Care Without Harm, one of HHI's partnering organizations, explained, "HHI will help re-invent hospitals as community anchors for health and sustainability by demonstrating how to reduce their climate footprint, detox their supply chain and serve healthier foods and beverages."
At CMHC, the staff person leading the HHI initiative is Pam Dalton, RN, Nurse Consultant, Assistant Administrator, and co-chair (with Dr. Sernyak) of the Health and Wellness Committee. The committee's motto captures the spirit of CMHC's focus on sustainable practices: "As responsible providers of health care services, we are committed to the health of our patients, our staff, and the local and global community."
"We believe that CMHC needs to be on the cutting edge of providing a healthy environment for consumers and staff," says Dalton. "HHI will help us get to where we want and need to be."