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News | Nov. 15, 2023

Defense Health Agency's Sustainability Initiative Thrives at Walter Reed

By James Black, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

Preserving Greenspaces While Building a New State-of-the-Art Medical Campus

On a picturesque fall day on Walter Reed’s campus, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen run laps around the track encircling a serene pond in front of the iconic tower designed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Meanwhile, patients, accompanied by their caretakers, stroll through the hospital grounds, embarking on a journey toward improved health and well-being. As stewards of this historic campus, stakeholders connected with the Defense Health Agency’s Sustainability Initiative meet periodically to develop plans to preserve historic buildings on base while building new, state-of-the-art facilities to advance medical care for our nation’s service members.

Becoming a Change Agent

“My vision for Walter Reed is that sustainability will become integrated in all aspects of the hospital’s operation: from how we build new buildings, to which products we buy, to how we consume and then dispose of food, medical waste, and other materials,” said U.S. Army Capt. Renuka Rees.

She’s the face of Walter Reed’s diverse Sustainability Team, comprising members from a variety of directorates, including the hospital’s facilities staff of engineering and construction, housekeeping, hazardous materials, regulated waste management, and operations and maintenance. The team also includes leaders from Walter Reed’s Nutritional Services, Operating Room, and other services. Other stakeholders are the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and waste management administrators.

“When I was growing up, recycling and composting were things I did without thinking. My parents taught me at an early age to waste as little as possible, but it would be years before I fully understood the connection between these practices and climate change,” shared Rees – who strives to encourage others to become agents of change and promote sustainability.

Sustainability means using products and energy in a way that does not harm the environment, Rees explained. As the assistant service chief of Pediatric Primary Care Medical Home at Walter Reed and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University (USU), she’s committed to ensuring that today’s children have a healthy, maintainable future. Rees recently returned to Walter Reed after giving birth last year. When you visit Rees’s office, you’ll not only see an array of family photos and military mementos, but you’ll also notice a virtually paperless workspace. She’s something of a sustainability devotee, dedicated to leading my example.

On the Path to a More Sustainable Future

Earlier this year, Walter Reed received the Greenhealth Partner for Change Award from Practice Greenhealth, the nation's leading organization dedicated to environmental sustainability in health care. The award was presented during the CleanMed 2023 Conference held May 23-25 in Pittsburgh.

CleanMed is the premier national environmental conference for leaders in health care sustainability. Maj. Jesse Rivera-Rosario, a perioperative services clinical nurse specialist and a member of Walter Reed’s Sustainability Team, was at the conference to receive the award.

But Rees and the Sustainability Team are not resting on their laurels. They are committed to developing a comprehensive plan to reduce Walter Reed’s reliance on plastics, improving recycling options, promoting more efficient energy initiatives, and relying on more renewable energy. So, stay tuned.
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