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Gary Cohen Named 2015 MacArthur Fellow

Gary Cohen, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth’s founder and president, was named as one of the 2015 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. For more than 20 years, Cohen has led the health sector in repositioning institutional practices around sustainability, climate change, and community health.

“American hospitals have historically been major contributors to environmental pollution, largely ignoring the damage to local communities and environments caused by extensive use of harmful chemicals in medical devices, toxic cleaning agents, reliance on fossil fuels, and disposal of waste via incineration,” the MacArthur Foundation’s announcement said today. 

“Cohen has led a paradigm shift in the perceived responsibility of health care providers, from a narrow, patient-centered duty of service regarding individual health to a broader obligation to also “do no harm” to surrounding communities, their residents, and the global environment.” 

"For 20 years, Gary has driven toward a compelling vision of a healthy environment," said Ray Baxter, Kaiser Permanente senior vice president of Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. "His genius is his ability to partner with the health care sector as the leading advocates for change."

The impact of Cohen’s vision for a healthy environment can be felt around the world. Health Care Without Harm’s efforts to eliminate mercury from health care started with one hospital in Boston and has since led to its nearly complete elimination from health care in the United States as well as a global treaty phasing mercury out of health care by 2020. Health Care Without Harm also played a leading role in reducing the number of waste incinerators in the United States from 5,600 incinerators in the 1990s to fewer than 70 in 2006. 

Health Care Without Harm has since grown into an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations, and religious groups.

In addition, Cohen founded Practice Greenhealth, the leading membership and networking organization for institutions in the U.S. health care community that have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Through Practice Greenhealth, hospitals can achieve environmentally preferable strategies and achieve environmental performance at a higher level, and become better neighbors to the communities they serve by reducing their carbon footprint. Cohen’s work has shown that a strong business model and protecting the environment are not diametrically opposed. 

Cohen was also instrumental in bringing together the NGOs and hospital systems that formed the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a national data-driven campaign to implement a completely new approach to improving environmental health and sustainability in the health care sector. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative measures improve patient safety and worker health, with more environmentally responsible strategies in their operations, at a time where there is pressure to reduce health care costs. 

“Cohen has achieved remarkable success in galvanizing a sense of social responsibility among hospitals and health care conglomerates and spearheading voluntary adoption of safer practices,” MacArthur Foundation’s announcement said.

“The MacArthur Fellowship is a testament to the power and passion of the people who helped build Health Care Without Harm and the thousands of health care advocates who are building a movement for sustainable healthcare around the world,” said Mr. Cohen. “This award is not only validation for my life’s work but also for the staff and health care leaders that have built the movement for sustainable health care over the last twenty years.”

For more information, visit https://www.macfound.org/fellows/932/

Health Care Without Harm 

Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform the health sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice. www.noharm.org

Practice Greenhealth

Practice Greenhealth is the nation’s leading health care community that empowers its members to increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving patient safety and care through tools, best practices and knowledge. www.practicegreenhealth.org

For more information, contact Benn Grover, Director of Communications, Health Care Without Harm.

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