COLUMBIA, Md. – MedStar Health has received a philanthropic donation from a longtime physician and an additional anonymous donor which will lead to the planting of one tree for each of its more than 30,000 associates. The contribution is uniquely designed to both permanently honor the selfless care associates provided throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and promote environmental sustainability, which is an issue important to MedStar Health.

Through a partnership with the Washington D.C.-based ForestPlanet, the trees will be strategically planted in countries like Madagascar and Tanzania, where deforested ecosystems are in need of revitalization. According to ForestPlanet, most of the planted trees will be of the Mangrove species, a type of tree that pulls more carbon from the air than any other.

Stephen Peterson, MD

One of the donors, Stephen Peterson, MD, is a psychiatrist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and also an environmental activist. He developed the idea after watching his colleagues respond to the pandemic.

“Through this donation, we’re thanking the associates who were so brave coming into work over the past year. Every member of the team has been courageous. Everyone honored the MedStar Health name in that way,” Peterson said. “We healed people in our hospitals and clinics. Now we’re healing the Earth. I’ve always been environmentally conscious, but it never really hit me how important it was until our grandchild came along four years go. If we don’t start taking action now, will future generations have a wonderful sustainable Earth?”

The plan received support from MedStar Health’s award-winning Environmental Health and Safety team and Corporate Environmental Leadership Committee, which work to implement environmental strategies across the health system all year long. Those projects include reducing and recycling solid waste, cutting down on regulated and chemical waste, lowering energy and water consumption, sourcing food and projects sustainably, and establishing green purchasing policies.

“When we’re planting trees, we’re literally helping the air that all of us breathe,” says Monica Barnett, director of Environmental Health and Safety at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “That helps our patients, our prospective patients, and our community. It all just fits together with what we’re trying to do. We are the stewards of Earth. The more that we appreciate the gift of stewardship, the more we’ll help the Earth and each other.”

“ForestPlanet is very grateful for this donation. We applaud Dr. Peterson and his 30,000 colleagues for their work over the past year,” say Hank Dearden III, Executive Director of ForestPlanet. “Trees are sentinels of healing. Healthy trees and soils result in healthy communities and ecosystems. These trees will also provide acres of habitat for local species, which will ultimately reduce the risk of future pandemics.”

A prior reforestation project in Tanzania

Eventually, Peterson hopes that his seed of an idea will blossom into a worldwide trend, as other organizations consider gifting trees to honor the contributions of their own employees and associates in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have a lot of strong feelings about their wonderful strength,” he said. “It was scary in the beginning, but nevertheless they came in and took care of people. They were very brave.”


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