GPOs Show Significant Progress in Sourcing Healthier Furnishings

Earlier this month, HealthTrust, a major Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) announced that all HealthTrust manufacturers and distributors have furniture that meets the sustainability criteria outlined by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth. The $28.5 billion, 1400-hospital-member GPO added that suppliers “will consult with members at no additional charge to help them meet the Healthier Hospitals guidelines when making purchasing decisions,” according to Vanessa Perutelli, portfolio manager of Strategic Sourcing at HealthTrust.

The announcement follows on the heels of the launch of Greenhealth Exchange (GX) in May, a new buying cooperative dedicated to green procurement. GX announced its intention to source only furniture meeting the Healthier Hospitals criteria. GX’s contracting process involves members and sustainability experts that work to create detailed specifications for product and supplier performance. Every product offered will meet the GX specifications. The GX platform will also allow members to easily track and measure progress toward their goals. Suppliers will be able to benchmark their performance against the competition and identify areas for continuous improvement. The HealthTrust and GX announcements mark an important milestone in Health Care Without Harm’s efforts to transform the products used in health care.

When the Healthier Hospitals program was launched, Health Care Without Harm’s vision was that by sending a clear consistent signal to the market, health care could change the design and production of products so they are safer for patients, employees, and the communities that make them. We identified critical measures of success: manufacturers need to bring products to market that meet our criteria and are both cost competitive and high-performing; those products must be easy to identify and offered on contract; and major health care players need to buy them.

Manufacturers have responded to the initiative by providing a large and growing list of products that meet the Healthier Hospitals criteria. Thirty-three manufacturers, including all of the largest institutional furniture manufacturers as well as companies that are part of the furniture supply chain, have provided lists of products that meet the goal. Green alternatives to most institutional furniture used in health care can now be supplied by the furniture sector.

The criteria outlined by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth includes a prohibition on dangerous chemicals like flame retardants, antimicrobials, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds (stain-resist chemicals) and PVC. It may be hard to believe that furniture can contribute to health threats, but growing evidence suggests it can. For instance, a study released last week shows some of these chemicals, including flame retardants and stain-resist chemicals, appearing in the dust of rooms as a result of the furniture and building materials. These chemicals can enter our bodies from air and dust when we breathe and touch contaminated surfaces, accidentally transferring them to our food or mouth with our hands. These chemicals have also been measured in health professionals as a result of exposure on the job. And some of these chemicals can contribute to health problems. That’s why we prioritized some of the most hazardous, persistent toxic chemicals as part of the Safer Chemicals Healthy Interiors goal of the Healthier Hospitals program.

And health care has actively responded by purchasing those products. A recent example: Partners HealthCare built a new 850,000 square foot state of the art administration building called Assembly Row. Seventy percent of their furnishings met the Healthy Interiors goal, totalling more than $150,000,000.

The announcements by HealthTrust and GX help to complete the circle, making it much easier to identify and specify safer furnishings for member hospitals. Health Care Without Harm looks forward to announcements from other GPOs with similar commitments to make it as easy as possible for all hospitals in the country to buy greener furnishings.