SUMMIT, NJ — Overlook Medical Center’s nearly decadelong effort to reduce its environmental footprint has officially been recognized.
The hospital, which is part of Atlantic Health System, was among 68 medical centers nationwide named to a list of environmentally friendly and sustainable hospitals and health systems in Becker’s Hospital Review for 2018.
The magazine’s review praised Overlook for cutting its meat consumption by 62 percent and installing a series of initiatives, including clinical plastic recycling, device reprocessing and other energy-saving measures in a list released Dec. 3.
According to Overlook’s administration, the effort is closely tied to its work as health care providers.
“It is no secret that there is much work to be done as a global society regarding sustainability,” Michael Atanasio, the hospital’s director of food and nutrition, parking and patient transportation, said in a Jan. 13 email to LocalSource. “As health care providers, we understand that health begins in our communities, and how much a healthy environment affects our communities, so any steps we can take to improve things at that very early stage, we want to contribute.”
Atanasio leads the environmental sustainability initiatives at the hospital.
Some of Overlook’s first initiatives included offering discounted coffee prices for those who bring a reusable cup and replacing single-use plastic products with reusable and renewable kitchen products in the cafeterias. From there, Overlook increased its efforts by recycling nontraditional items such as batteries and cooking oil.
For Atanasio, one of the hospital’s biggest sustainability achievements is the center’s trigeneration power plant, which produces 4 megawatts of electricity on site by harnessing the waste heat produced by generators. This process allows the hospital to operate independent of grid-supplied power during emergency situations.
“It not only provides a profound green benefit, but it also enables us to provide service to our community without interruption,” he said. “The single most impressive example of this was Superstorm Sandy, when Overlook was able to maintain its own power despite outages elsewhere. We were a beacon in Summit. We not only delivered unyielding quality health care to our patients, we provided food, water, shelter and comfort to our community.
The process also reduces the cost of replaces energy by more than 60 percent, Atanasio said.
Other significant achievements include the installation of a food dehydrator and implementation of the Orbio on-site generation system, which creates cleaning and disinfecting solutions.
Overlook uses the dehydrator to dry food waste, reducing its weight by almost 95 percent. The Orbio OSG system uses an electrolysis process to convert water, electricity and small amounts of salt into cleaning and disinfection solutions.
The dehydrator “saves valuable landfill space and also, substitutes for composting,” Atanasio said. “The Orbio system significantly reduces the use of environmentally harmful chemicals without any compromise in safety.”
Atanasio credits Overlook’s president, Alan Lieber, for his role in the sustainability initiatives, saying Lieber, “truly walks the walk.”
A large part of Overlook’s environmental initiative involves the community and educating others on sustainability through its “Bee Healthy” program.
In 2013, the hospital was the first in the state to install beehives on its roof. The benefits of having the 10 beehives include fresh honey and beeswax, which are transformed in-house to lip balms and lotion.
Overlook has also leased a plot of land to the community at no cost, offering 48 garden beds where residents cultivate produce that goes to food pantries in Summit.
“When you can show local school children firsthand the benefits of sustainable living, your efforts have instantly multiplied,” Atanasio said.
The hospital also made Practice Greenhealth’s Top 25 Environmental Excellence last year and was awarded a Greening the OR recognition from Greenhealth.
The sustainability team at Overlook has already committed to several goals for 2019, including the expansion of technology to reduce flash sterilization rates, and securing resources to construct a hydroponic greenhouse — in which plants are grown without soil — through community partnerships.
“This is an obligation we have to our community, patients, staff and society at large,” Atanasio said.