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What I'm Doing at CommonSpirit by Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP
Sister Mary Ellen Liciejewski, OP

Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP
System Vice President for Environmental Sustainability
CommonSpirit Health

I am ministering in environmental sustainability at CommonSpirit Health, a national healthcare organization of more than 140 hospitals serving 20 million patients in big cities and small towns across the United States. 

The roots of our work in sustainability at CommonSpirit run deep. Looking back, it’s hard to tell where the starting line was. In the mid-1990s, we were dipping our toes into sustainability. We were becoming aware of how health care negatively impacted the health and well-being of people and the environment. These included toxic chemicals in cleaners, contributing to asthma in our healthcare workers, plastic devices harming patients and affecting water quality, and waste practices that contaminated the communities we were committed to serving. 

As we learned about the impacts these practices had on our health and the health of our planet, we felt compelled to address them by choosing healthier building materials; serving nutritious and sustainably grown food to our patients and staff; procuring products containing safer chemicals; redesigning the system to eliminate waste; paying attention to the products we purchase, who made them and under what conditions and how we disposed of them; and publicly reporting on our environmental health activities.

I work with colleagues to ensure that sustainability in all the system’s dimensions is embedded in our day-to-day operations. That means reaching beyond the four walls of our hospitals to improve people’s well-being, wherever they live, work, play, or pray; building partnerships to meet basic human needs; supporting long-term economic growth in communities by increasing spending with minority and women-owned business enterprises; and building community wealth. It means moving upstream to address the conditions that are making people sick in the first place.

Climate change is challenging our ability to deliver care and harming the health of the communities we serve, especially those most vulnerable who are hit first and worst. Every day in our emergency departments, we see first-hand the consequences of weather-related events, poor nutrition, unhealthy water, high-heat days, and the psychological impacts of these stressors.  

We’ve developed a Climate Action Plan, a framework for reducing our emission of greenhouse gas (GHG), those gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat and contribute to climate change. We focus on reducing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. We are committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040: removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we put in. Addressing climate change will be the most significant public health opportunity of the 21st century.

We’ve been collaborating with local and global partners who also embrace a vision of community and planetary health. I see these deep partnerships as a sign of grace in our work. 

In his Laudato Si’ Action Platform, Pope Francis challenges Catholics and all people of good will to hear the cry of Earth and the poor and become fully sustainable within seven years. His call to change how we think and act in relationship with one another and our fragile Earth aligns with CommonSpirit’s mission to reveal God’s healing presence. We are developing a plan to deepen our understanding of what ecological conversion demands of us and to promote a culture of caring for all of creation.

Why Am I Doing This?

My passion for sustainability and climate work is rooted in a deep respect and astonishment for this place I call home: the place where we all belong, the place that’s been taking care of us for billions of years, where I get to glimpse Divinity in everyone and everything. Earth is a sacred gift deserving of our reverence and protection for present and future generations. 

Health care can play a leading role in addressing our growing climate crisis and driving us toward solutions that make our hospitals and care centers climate-resilient while addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people we serve. We can manage the climate crisis by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, educating the public about the health consequences of the climate crisis, calling our elected leaders to account, and becoming advocates for meaningful policies that will improve the health and resilience of our communities. 

The vibrant charisms of all our sponsoring congregations at CommonSpirit are a source of vitality, inspiration, and motivation. Looking through the lens of the Dominican Charism, I feel called to respond to the signs of the times, hear the world’s emergency sirens wailing all around us, and work together with agents of healing. 

Dominicans have traditionally had a democratic government, a collaborative mindset that supports us in taking risks, making bold decisions, and staying focused on our vision. Preaching about CommonSpirit efforts to confront racism and health inequities can bring change and transformation. We call upon the audacity of Catherine and the passion of Dominic as we care for our beautiful, fragile, interdependent home. We have nothing to lose.

For Your Reflection

• What’s your responsibility, from a faith perspective, to care for all of God’s creation?

• How might you respond to this extraordinary crisis in our moment in history?

• What is your picture of a sustainable lifestyle?

• How can we empower each other to live sustainably?

 

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Avatar  Anneliese Sinnott, O.P. 10 months agoReply

Wonderful article. Lech, you're doing such great work!



 

 

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