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Kootenay Lake Hospital switches to sevoflurane for planetary health

In order to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint, Kootenay Lake Hospital (KLH) has made some substantial changes regarding the hospital’s anaesthetic gas usage.

According to Dr. Jim Wiedrick, Chief of Staff at KLH, general anaesthesia is usually initiated by intravenous medications and mostly maintained throughout the surgery by inhaled gases.  The two main anaesthetic gases used in surgical procedures are sevoflurane and desflurane.  When a surgical case is completed, the gases are eventually vented into the earth's atmosphere. 

Wiedrick explained that desflurane has been identified as thirteen times more troublesome to the environment than sevoflurane when comparing the gases’ global warming potential (GWP). 

GWP determines a gas’s capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere and ultimately, contribute to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

Last summer, in response to the global climate crisis, KLH physicians Dr. Kyle Merritt formed Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health KB, a grassroots collective of health professionals from across Kootenay Boundary, who are working to address the climate and other ecological crises that are fundamental to human health and wellbeing. 

As part of the group’s commitment to greener hospital practices, a movement towards eliminating the use of desflurane anesthetic was initiated earlier this year.

“We are now using sevoflurane in ninety-nine percent of hospital procedures requiring anaesthetic,” said Wiedrick. “I’m pleased to report that all of our anaesthetists are in alignment with this important decision.”

Wiedrick also mentioned the hospital’s acquisition of two new anaesthetic machines, which have decreased the amount of anaesthetic gas that is released from the hospital.

“In 2019 and 2021, we were grateful to receive new anaesthetic machines,” he said.

“These machines are especially valuable because they allow for a lower flow of anaesthetic gases, which in turn, significantly reduces our overall usage.”

Moving forward, KLH aims to position the hospital as a leader in climate change action. KLH Facility Engagement recently launched “Engaging in Climate Action at KLH”, a project led by Dr. Lee MacKay and Dr. Kyle Merritt that will address issues related to climate change.

This project’s focus is to engage with the KLH community, other hospital sites, Interior Health and the Nelson community regarding the climate crisis and will explore the possibility of implementing a green hospital scorecard to monitor and reduce energy use.