Bringing new life into the world is a daily joy for midwives such as Lucinda Port – but what will life on Planet Earth be like for these future generations?
Will we be able to avert the climate crisis? Will humans learn how to live sustainably?
Ramsay Health Care Australia, where Ms Port works as a Clinical Midwife Specialist at Sydney’s North Shore Private Hospital, has for the past year been addressing its environmental footprint – and the impact of its operational actions on the planet.
The country’s biggest private healthcare provider has launched a new sustainability strategy, and has already been recognised with selection as a finalist in the Outstanding Organisation category at the 2021 HESTA Nursing and Midwifery Awards.
"As a midwife, helping a couple bring new life into the world is one of the most natural and sustainable things a human can do,” Ms Port said.
“Working for a company who puts environmental sustainability at the forefront of its future plans is very important to me.”
Having taken part in the group’s sustainability workshop in 2020, she was delighted to see some of the ideas generated come to fruition as Ramsay implements its plans – such as aiming to remove up to 30 million single-use plastic products and water bottles from landfill every year.
“My colleagues bring new ideas to the table every day and I'm very proud to be a part of the Ramsay sustainability strategy and pass these ideas along,” Ms Port said.
“The future of mine, and the children I help bring into the world, depends on us."
Driving this company vision is National Environment Manager Sue Panuccio, Australia’s lead on Ramsay’s global sustainability committee.
Having worked for Ramsay Australia in various roles for nearly 20 years, she initiated the project to remove single-use plastics across 70-plus nationwide facilities.
“To be selected as a HESTA finalist is great recognition of our achievements in itself,” Ms Panuccio said.
“It validates and celebrates all the efforts, challenges, ideas and contributions of our people who have contributed to enable us to get to this point.
“Having great aspirations is one thing, but the commitment and support from across the whole organisation is what has enabled us to achieve what we have. Being a part of this has been a personal highlight.”
Ramsay’s awards submission included its creation of an Environmental Sustainability fund to support site-based initiatives such as energy-efficient lighting, solar panel installation, the phasing out of bottled water for patients, and ultra-violet pool water filtration systems.
The company has also committed to extensive recycling – 29 of its facilities participate in the Baxter Healthcare vinyl program, which since 2018 has turned more than 30 tonnes of PVC intravenous bags into over 255 kilometres of garden hosing, and 536 kilograms of aluminium bottles into usable products.
More than 98 percent of Ramsay Australia’s unwanted IT assets have been remarketed, recycled or processed, while it has also appointed Sustainability Ambassadors.
In the bigger picture encompassing these achievements, the company’s global ‘Ramsay Cares’ sustainability strategy was launched in December 2020.
Developed with input from staff across Australia and other regions, with people from different levels and roles, it is built on the three pillars of Caring for People, Caring for our Planet and Caring for Communities.
“This global strategy has been embraced by Australia with the establishment of key targets for each pillar over the next five years and commitment to funding,” Ms Panuccio said.
“This strategy provides the roadmap for environmental sustainability going forward.”
Each Ramsay hospital has its targets.
North Shore Private Hospital aims to replace more than 14,000 plastic cups, cutlery items and straws each week with biodegradable alternatives, stopping 767,000 plastic items ending up in landfill over the next 12 months.
It has already swapped glad wrap for biodegradable food packaging, and is replacing plastic water bottles by installing dual head taps and ordering glasses and water jugs for our staff and patients, along with commercial dishwashers.
Southern Highlands Private Hospital sent 303kg of PVC waste from its theatre wards to the Baxter scheme in 2020 – a 25 percent annual increase, which was among the highest in New South Wales.
“We have little recycling bins that are specific for each theatre and we had education sessions to teach staff what to do. I think everyone is really determined to get involved and play a part in recycling,” Operating Theatres Nurse Unit Manager Annie Dean said.
Sydney’s Castlecrag Private Hospital has slashed its energy consumption by more than a half after replacing old incandescent bulbs, fluorescent tubes and halogen down lights with LED lights.
“The LEDs can be used for 50,000 hours before needing to be replaced, compared to 10,000 hours for the old fluorescent tubes, so it really is a win-win for us,” CEO Richard Ryan said.
Wollongong Private Hospital has reduced its waste by donating unused portion-controlled food to a local homeless charity, with staff throughout the facility also contributing other items after the project started with the catering department.
Perth’s Hollywood Private Hospital is combining recycling with support for its medical research foundation – its employees recently raised $11,000 by purchasing used batteries, phone chargers, compost and other non-medical excess items.
The compost comes from recyclable takeaway containers, which staff have to pay for if they decide not to use plates, knives and forks in the cafeteria.
Mt Wilga Private Hospital prevented 60,000 styrofoam cups from ending up in landfill in a six-month period by introducing 300 ceramic mugs in October 2020.
“Our stores team was (previously) ordering between 8,000 to 10,000 styrofoam cups every month,” Support Services Manager Nicolas Dakin said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Ramsay set a World Environment Day goal of removing 24 million plastic items from 5 June 2020 to 5 June 2021.
Even though the global health crisis caused supply issues with several of the sustainable alternatives, and suspension of elective surgery in Australia meant the volume of products used was lower than predicted, the company still saved more than nine million items from landfill by the end of last year.
“Ramsay is proud to be making a meaningful, positive impact on the environment despite the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Ms Panuccio said.
“It’s wonderful that we have still been able to continue reducing the use of plastic items so significantly considering the unforeseen circumstances due to COVID-19.”
She said the company’s key environmental sustainability goals for the next five years are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy intensity per patient day, and install renewable energy alternatives such as solar panels on sites.
“The targets we have proposed will be challenging and the associated works program will be significant, but with the level of commitment and support we believe we will achieve our targets,” Ms Panuccio said.
“We will continue to look at how we can avoid plastics and reduce waste, particularly packaging, investigate better treatment of food waste, and understand how we use and manage water.”
Ramsay Australia has also launched a new range of professional development programs specifically tailored for nurses and midwives.
Announced on International Day of the Midwife (Wednesday 5 May) and ahead of International Nurses Day (Wednesday 12 May), the four programs will nurture future nursing leaders, provide a two-year fellowship program for graduates, reduce red tape that prevents nurses and midwives from spending more time with patients, and support new Directors of Clinical Services with comprehensive education and training.
“As I’ve been visiting our hospitals around Australia, our nurses and midwives have been telling me they want more education," CEO Carmel Monaghan said.
“Paul Ramsay always said, ‘Our people are our most important asset’, and I am big a supporter of this philosophy.”
The 2021 HESTA Nursing and Midwifery Awards winners will be named on Thursday 6 May.