Carole Blane sits down with longtime camper Joan Plisko

When I first met Joan Plisko and she told me what she does for a living I was so interested and finally got to sit down and talk with her for a newsletter article last year. Many of you know Joan - she has been to our Women’s Weekend (in fact she is one of the founding mothers of that program), Lost Arts Week, and Camp Common Ground (2011 was her sixth summer!). She is the mom of the one of the “Ellies” and a tea maker extraordinaire at Camp. She hails from Maryland and comes as part of the Biamonte/Queeney/Walker contingent. All three of these Maryland families, the Pliskos, Biamontes, and Queeney/Walkers do all kinds of cool stuff surrounding environmental issues and nature celebration throughout the year together in their home towns, setting great examples for us all. Joan and Clare Walker started a green club at their kids’ schools and in her spare time, Joan is now heading up the “Environmental Issues Committee” for one of their local political campaigns.

As you know, here at CGC we make a continuous effort to be as green as we can be and we know this is an important issue for our campers. Who knew we had such an inspiring environmentalist right under our noses’?

Carole Blane (CB): Joan, your job has always intrigued me. Can you tell us more about it?

Joan Plisko (JP): Sure, Carole. I am the Technical Director for Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment. I provide technical assistance to hospitals to develop and implement environmental and sustainable practices. Our goal is to create a paradigm shift in the way health care is delivered in Maryland.

The Hippocratic Oath includes the saying: First, Do No Harm. What we are doing is shifting a culture back to its roots – health care should be about health and healing in an environment that promotes and fosters healing. A healthy hospital environment is good for patients, for staff members, and for community members.

The reason to do this works lies in the premise of creating a healthy environment for our children and our children’s children. While having beautiful mountains and places of respite is awesome, what we are striving for is a healthy environment with less pollutants in the air – which leads to lower incidence of asthma – healthier children; less toxics in the water – which leads to reduced exposure to common pollutants in our foods – healthier children. Most people don’t know this: nurses have the highest rate of occupational asthma than any other profession. This means the caregivers of our society are at the highest risk and are often the sickest. Nurses are exposed day in and day out to cleaners, pesticides, anesthetic gasses, latex, and so many other astmagens. It is time to create a new place to heal.

Change in the hospital environment is happening at all levels, but many times starts at the grassroots. We fan fire there and try to also infiltrate the top – at the executive level.

CB: Do they come to you?

JP: At the onset, yes, but now that sustainability is such a large part of society and culture we are flooded with requests for help.

CB: Can you define sustainability?

JP: You can think of environmental programs like a laundry list of what hospitals can do. For example, hospitals can:

- Purchase less toxic materials and request less packaging material from suppliers and vendors.

- Use alternative, less toxic products for operations such as cleaning and pest management.

- Reduce waste and recycle as much of the waste stream as possible. One hospital in Oregon recycles 70% of its waste stream.

- Offer local and organic foods to patients and to staff and visitors in the cafeteria. The Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, VT, for instance, recently opened the Sustainable Harvest Café – the most sustainable hospital café in the country!

Sustainability, however, includes the environmental programs, but more importantly includes a shift in the cultural and value system of an organization. Concepts related to sustainability, to be successful, must be woven into the fabric of a hospital, including its mission, core values, operations, and community outreach.

At MD H2E we assist hospitals, health systems and other health providers in developing and implementing programs. This is done through on-site visits, audits, educational seminars, and partnerships.

MD H2E has a small staff – two do nursing outreach, one handles sustainable foods, and I handle the operations piece.

Some of the areas I work in include:

- Mercury elimination

- Integrated Pest Management

- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

- Green Cleaning

- Composting

- Energy conservation

- Water conservation

- Elimination of PVC and DEHP (di-2-ehtylhexyl-pthtalate)

DEHP, for example, is a plasticizer used in IV bags and tubing to make them flexible. It has been shown however, that DEHP can leach into the fluids in the bags, and enter the patient. It has been documented that DEHP is a reproductive toxicant to the developing male neo nate. We educate hospitals about the problem AND offer up solutions that protect health, and many times save money too. In fact, most of the programs we promote are good for the environment, good for the pocketbook, keep a hospital in regulatory compliance, and promote corporate responsibility and stewardship in the community.

We partner with many organizations such as the MD Hospital Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Pesticide Network, and so many more. Recently, we began exploring a relationship with the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. The only way to truly create change is to integrate sustainability concepts into the curriculum of medical schools.

This interview was originally published in our Winter 2010 Community Newsletter.

To read more about sustainability at Common Ground Center, click here!