Jenna Agins is Bending the Health-care Sustainability Curve
At the Erb Institute, Jenna Agins, Erb ’13, stoked her passion for sustainability in health care and helped two major health systems frame and embrace green health practices. She also raised awareness among Erb students and the University community about the great potential health-care sustainability holds for improving medical-care delivery, reducing unwanted environmental impacts and providing rewarding career paths for Michigan talent.
“Promoting sustainability in the health-care industry is particularly challenging because care providers, pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and insurers are complex organizations that have a quadruple bottom line, including a mission to provide life-giving services to diverse communities,” explains Agins, who grew up in a family of doctors and hospital administrators. “Right now, the industry is behind the sustainability curve compared to other sectors. What’s exciting, however, is that there’s plenty of ‘low-hanging fruit’ to be had and potential for innovation, education and improvement at all levels.”
Summer jobs at medical technology firm Becton Dickinson and a Ross School marketing internship at drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb afforded Agins a glimpse into the vast corporate world of medical devices, laboratory equipment, diagnostic products and pharmaceuticals. She took the plunge into health-care sustainability during her 2012 internship at North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, where she collaborated with the newly appointed director for sustainability and social responsibility. “I assisted North Shore in defining its sustainability role and goals, and then developing a strategic framework and measurement/reporting system to attain them,” Agins says. “Working for the first time inside a large health system revealed its organizational complexity, and illustrated the importance of taking a multidisciplinary approach to sustainability while balancing potentially competing goals, job responsibilities and priorities.”
During her master’s project at the University of Michigan Health System, Agins and her teammates, including Catherine Dyson and Annie Cronin, both Erb ’14, focused on the Patient Food and Nutrition Group, where they made an analytical deep dive into its food waste-management practices ─ including 15 hours of sorting through trash in hospital kitchen receptacles during their initial waste audit. At the conclusion of the project, the team provided health system administrators and employees with actionable recommendations and a replicable model for increasing recycling and composting while reducing purchases of extraneous materials, such as plastic lids and containers. “As students of the environment and advocates of sustainability, we were able to spark an interest among some people who had never thought much about these issues before,” Agins remarks.
As a capstone to her Erb career, Agins spearheaded the organization and presentation of a mini-conference, “The New Healthcare Mission: Innovating Through Sustainability,” in November 2012. The campus-wide event engaged graduate students from multiple disciplines in scholarly and practical conversations about sustainability with St. Joseph Mercy Health System administrators, consultants from SOS Partners and nonprofit leaders from Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm. “Health care touches every single person’s life, but a lot of Erb students don’t realize its potential or else overlook it because the sector is a little daunting,” Agins explains. “I feel this is an area where Erbers can have a huge impact.”
Agins is now ready to practice what she preaches by taking a full-time job in health-care sustainability. “Erb has prepared me to be a change agent,” she says. “I have the ability to go into a health-care organization and bring new ideas and innovative programs, based on what I have learned at the Institute and the University.”