Voices of Hennepin Healthcare: Toya López

toya standing by a railing in the clinic & specialty center, voices of hennepin healthcare: toya lópez, health professionals for a healthy climate, equitable healthcare, environmental sustainability, community well spaces

Toya López, a patient and former team member at Hennepin Healthcare, strongly believes in a sustainable healthcare design that cares for patients and environmental health.

“At Hennepin Healthcare, we are amongst leaders,” praises Toya López, a patient and former team member (employee) of Hennepin Healthcare, as well as a board member for Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate. “The people who work here care about the purpose. Part of the purpose is to make a healthier environment.”

López’s career integrates their passions for health equity and environmental sustainability. “I’m grateful for the care I receive here as a patient. I know what it’s like to be a patient and an employee. This is very much a purpose-driven place,” explains López.

As Hennepin Healthcare engages in an innovative planning process to advance health equity, López provides insights into adopting a “one health” model that invites sustainable solutions and creates wellness spaces for human, animal, and environmental healthcare.

Adopting a One Health Mindset

López explains, “Human health, animal health and environmental health — this is ‘one health.’ The purpose of sustainability is to heal plants and the soil, which then nourishes our bodies and affects our health.” López’s cross-disciplined work between equitable healthcare and environmental sustainability has helped them understand the connection between environmental harm and poor health outcomes in patients.

Environmental issues have the greatest impact on communities that have been historically marginalized. “Your ZIP code can determine your health outcomes,” López educates. “If you have poor air quality then you’re going to have lung health issues.” Unfortunately, healthcare augments the problem as the fifth largest contributor to polluting gases on the planet.

López is concerned about this statistic as it goes directly against the Hippocratic Oath by which all physicians abide. “We [healthcare professionals] take an oath to cause no harm and yet we are causing harm,” López informs. Lab materials, cleaning supplies, chemical use in furniture and carpets, pharmaceutical production and disposal, the use of styrofoam in the cafeteria, as well as utility costs to keep the building running 24/7 all contribute to environmental harm. However, López believes, “We don’t have to put up with living in an unhealthy world. There is something to do about it. We must have hope and faith in our communities.”

Offering Solutions for Sustainability

Hennepin Healthcare is an important institution in downtown Minneapolis as it employs and cares for a number of people and sustains families. Hennepin Healthcare has “a lot of hiring, investing and sourcing power. So much talent,” commends López.

Hennepin Healthcare enjoys, “the opportunity to increase the prosperity of the community we’re in, as well as better health outcomes,” López concludes confidently.

There are a number of ways in which healthcare can be made more environmentally sustainable. Sustainable procurement is a great place to begin: acquiring products that make the lowest possible environmental impact throughout its life cycle. For example, any resources purchased by the hospital can be found as locally as possible, supporting the economic advancement of the community while avoiding increasing carbon emissions from transportation that negatively impact air quality.

Hennepin Healthcare has a sustainability team that is engaging departments to focus on sustainable procurement, reducing waste and water use, green design, and other fundamental changes in pursuit of environmental health and justice. As new facilities are considered, this focus will be at the forefront.

Creating Community Well Spaces

“Environmental health and safety contribute to positive health outcomes,” asserts López. Therefore, in a sustainable healthcare model, “the patient’s best interests can be combined with what’s best for the environment.” Well spaces contribute directly to benefiting both patients and the environment. A well space is an accessible community place where people can gather and interact with each other in a way that supports human and environmental well-being.

López hopes that Hennepin Healthcare will “expand the concept of what can be in a hospital.” López dreams of a solar garden on campus that provides solar power to homes in the community, as well as decreasing electricity, water or other utility insecurity for residents of Elliot Park.

Structural changes like solar panels can be added to the building itself to produce sustainable forms of energy. Additionally, green roofs with gardens to improve air quality, as well as offer healing spaces for team members, patients and their loved ones to relax outdoors from the stress of the hospital environment.

“Taking care of smaller parts makes the whole a lot better,” affirms López. As a healthcare professional, López understands that the big picture is important. However, as a patient, López also sees that small details of the physical spaces necessitate careful attention. After all, a patient may receive care in one room or section of the facility only, making it a vital part of their experience.

In López’s vision of Hennepin Healthcare as a leader in equitable, sustainable healthcare, everyone involved does their “best to make the community healthy in all aspects that affect human life.”

Learn more about the planning process and sign up for monthly updates from Jennifer DeCubellis, CEO at HennepinHealthcare.org/ourfuture.

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