June 15, 2021 by Peter B. Laird
For Baptist Health South Florida, Every Day is Earth Day
“At Baptist Health, every day is Earth Day,” says Jason Bell, assistant vice president of operations for the health system, which has eleven hospitals and more than 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices from the Florida Keys through Palm Beach County.
Healthy people depend on a healthy environment and Baptist Health takes its sustainability efforts seriously, says Mr. Bell, who oversees sustainability initiatives for the 23,000-employee organization. “As a not-for-profit health system, being socially responsible and caring for our community is in our DNA,” he says.
What does sustainability mean?
Mr. Bell defines sustainability as operating in a way that ensures long-term viability without compromising the community. It also encompasses the notion of social responsibility, Mr. Bell says, with its focus on ethics, financial support of others, and volunteerism.
Baptist Health has long been environmentally aware, according to Mr. Bell, by building facilities that take advantage of natural light, using green building supplies and incorporating recycling programs into everyday business. It also was among the first in the region to make its campuses tobacco-free.
When Baptist Health’s West Kendall Baptist Hospital opened in 2011, the building was awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, making it one of the very first gold-certified hospitals in Florida, Mr. Bell says.
The hospital, he says, features white roofing products to reduce the effects of heat; high-efficiency chillers and handlers; dual-flush toilets; furniture made from high-recycled content; and low-emitting paints, carpets and other accessories. Since opening, it has offered charging stations for electric vehicles, hosted the county’s Adopt-a-Tree program, eliminated plastic straws and implemented dozens of other earth-friendly initiatives, he adds.
Since then, Baptist Health has looked for ways to lower its use of electricity, gas and water across its health system, Mr. Bell says. “We’ve retrofitted lighting at all of our facilities so that LED, cost-effective and longer-lasting bulbs are used, we’ve analyzed our air conditioning chillers to coordinate the timing and load based on outside temperature and humidity combined with building usage,” he continues. All renovations to existing facilities are planned with the newest technologies in mind, he adds, and all new construction meets updated green conservation efforts.
Baptist Health is now embarking on a multimillion-dollar project to better manage its energy usage and implement changes that will enhance its environmental programs throughout South Florida, says Mr. Bell. The program is now in place at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, part of Baptist Health, where energy savings of 10 percent have already been realized compared to the same period last year.
Grow2Heal gardens showcase the benefits of sustainable gardening
As Baptist Health moves forward with its expanded greening projects, it is adding Grow2Heal Gardens at its hospital campuses, Mr. Bell says. “The first garden was planted at Homestead Hospital in 2014 and harvests more than 5,000 pounds of produce a year that is used in patient and cafeteria meals,” he says.
Because Baptist Health is also focused on educating the community about the benefits of sustainability, the Grow2Heal garden is also the site of popular school field trips where children see food growing in its natural environment and learn about nutrition and plant-based meals, Mr. Bell says. “Several other Baptist Health hospitals have added Grow2Heal Gardens as well.”
Mr. Bell is passionate about his mission and confident Baptist Health will serve as a model for other hospitals and organizations. “For businesses like ours, we have to do whatever we can to not only reduce our carbon footprint but also to control the considerable costs that come with operating large, specialized facilities around the clock,” he says.
To learn more about how Baptist Health’s sustainability efforts, listen to the special Earth Day edition of Baptist Health’s HealthTalk podcast, “Healthcare and the Environment,” featuring a conversation with Mr. Bell and program host Jonathan Fialkow, M.D.