Amy Collins, MD – Health Care Without Harm
by Ira Dreyfuss
Epiphanies can come in ordinary moments. Dr. Amy Collins’ environmental epiphany came in her car, its engine running, in the pickup line outside her son’s school in April 2007. Her fourth grader, with his teacher’s lesson fresh in his mind, told Mom, “You are idling! Ms. Gruenfeld taught us about climate change today and what’s happening to the polar bears. I better not catch you idling ever again, and there’s a lot more you should be doing about climate change and to help the polar bears!”
“It was a moment that changed my life,” said Dr. Collins, a practicing emergency medicine physician, who also now works as a healthcare sustainability consultant and serves as a Medical Champion at the Medical Society Consortium for Climate and Health. That night, education continued as the family watched the Al Gore classic environment documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” The family started paying attention to its environmental footprint, with such things as changing to energy-efficient light bulbs, drying clothes on clotheslines, composting, purchasing local food and starting a backyard garden and using energy-efficient appliances. Lesson learned.
But this blog post is not about personal steps, important though they are (especially in the aggregate), because Dr. Collins did not stop there. “It became uncomfortable living one way at home and another in the hospital,” she says. At her hospital, MetroWest Medical Center in Massachusetts, she started advocating – politely and respectfully, of course – for change. Through an internet search, she discovered the global organization, Health Care Without Harm, and learned about the environmental impact of health care and the many steps a hospital can take to reduce that impact. After learning what other hospitals had been doing, she turned to her hospital’s administration, presenting the Chief Executive Officer with an argument for change.
It worked. With the administration on board, she started a “green team” that developed practical sustainability actions to reduce waste and increase energy efficiency. Her organization won Environmental Excellence Awards from Practice Greenhealth for many years in a row, including the Environmental Leadership Circle Award, given to institutions with outstanding programs to reduce the facility’s environmental footprint.” Practice Greenhealth represents healthcare organizations committed to environmentally sustainable practices.
For Dr. Collins, her commitment grew into a second career in environmental/sustainability advocacy with Health Care Without Harm, another organization promoting environmentally responsible health care, where she serves as the Senior Clinical Advisor, leading an initiative to engage and educate physicians to be advocates for sustainability within the healthcare sector. One of her roles is to present at conferences, to encourage doctors and hospital personnel to learn about and take action on environmental sustainability such as steps to counter climate change. As a Medical Champion with the Consortium, she informs the public and policymakers about the immediate and long-term health benefits associated with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and about the harmful health effects of climate change on Americans – notably patients.
“To act on climate change is a preventive health strategy,” Dr. Collins says.