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October 30th 2014

Fast-Tracking Sustainability Through the Catholic Health Association - How Julie Trocchio Did It

By path2positive

An Unexpected Beginning

As a senior executive for the national Catholic Health Association (CHA), Julie Trocchio was used to navigating her way around high-level programming and advocacy activities. But when an unexpected letter arrived from the CEO’s of its largest member system requesting sustainability be fast-tracked as a national CHA priority, Trocchio had her work cut out for her.

While the proposal did not make the final cut of CHA’s three strategic organizational priorities, Trocchio received clear direction to “make it happen anyway", she remembers. “The whole issue intimidated me at at first,” Trocchio admits. “I thought environmental, and particularly climate issues were extremely technical and I did not have that background at all. I am very clear that we are not operations people and that we could never tell our members how best to cut down on water flow or finance energy efficiency measures.”

Seeking Out Partner Expertise

Ms. Trocchio's career began in nursing. She earned a bachelor's degree from the Georgetown University School of Nursing in Washington, DC, and a master's degree from the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore. She joined CHA in 1988, working to advance the Catholic health ministry on behalf of the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation. The vast group comprises over 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in all 50 states.

To lead the charge on climate and health, Trocchio sought expertise and support from Gary Cohen, President of Healthcare Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems leading the global movement for environmentally responsible health care. These three healthcare system leaders sat down with HCWH and shared their strong belief that an educational approach would be the best strategy to achieve needed changes,” Trocchio says. “They wanted to focus on inspiring and informing their members about the potential for climate solutions to create cost savings and positive health impacts.”

Playing to Strengths

Leveraging HCWH’s expertise, Trocchio set about positioning climate solutions as the next logical step within CHA’s environmental stewardship and creation care activities. CHA’s strategy was framed by its mission-based policy reinforcing the Catholic faith’s special moral commitment to care for the poor—population, which research shows as being exceptionally vulnerable to health and climate impacts.

CHA first sent out a needs-assessment survey to determine members’ needs for starting or improving climate and sustainability within their own facilities. Collaborating closely with HCWH on the development of the survey, it also uncovered priority environmental health concerns and impacts, identified how institutions could best help to address those needs, and properly accounted for these under the new IRS guidelines. As a result, CHA succeeded in integrating funds for the reduction of greenhouse emissions into the new hospital community benefits program set forth by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Previously, the IRS considered green hospital improvements as either the cost of doing business or part of a public relations program and should not be reported as community benefit. Since the changes, hospitals can report these improvements as community benefit, signifying recognition that such improvements represent a health benefit to the community.

In response to the findings, CHA has secured funding for initiatives like Faithfully Healing the Earth. An educational program designed to respond to energy efficiencies within health care facilities. It also explored the health care impact on the poor and how Catholic health care might better respond.

CHA’s successful partnership with HCWH now influences system-wide awareness and actions that reduce energy use and emissions.  “Our work gained a momentum of its own. With more environmental efforts firmly in place across our network, the goal now is to learn from one another so we can enhance our collective sustainability and efficiently replicate the most successful practices that decrease energy consumption and increase climate responsibility efforts", says Trocchio.

Keys to Success

  • Seek expertise - reach out to those who you believe can assist you in finding climate solutions, so that meaningful changes can take place.
  • Begin with a needs assessment survey and evaluate exactly what your members need, so that you can determine your medical facilities’ progress in expanding their green goals.  
  • Provide educational resources, so that others can effectively replicate the most successful and innovative resources in your organization.
  • Connect climate to your organization’s mission, most importantly, ensure that you are relating climate change to your overarching purpose, so that others understand why a commitment to climate is necessary for them.
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