Gary Cohen, who was the second recipient of JMF’s Sparkplug Award in 2007, was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, a distinction accompanied by a $625,000 grant paid out over five years. The John Merck Fund congratulates him on this accomplishment.
Gary is a social entrepreneur and activist spurring environmental responsibility in health care both in the United States and abroad. In 1996, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), initially a grassroots cooperative, to bring attention to the fact that American hospitals had been major contributors to environmental pollution and had been 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. Gary 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.
He has since expanded HCWH’s mission to engage environmental scientists, medical professionals and institutional leadership around the broader challenges of sustainability, climate change and community health. To that end, he has also founded or co-founded other organizations, including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a data-driven platform that guides hospitals in purchasing safer chemicals and healthy food and implementing energy efficient technologies, and Practice Greenhealth, a US-based membership organization for hospital systems to share best practices, information and tools for environmentally responsible patient safety and care. In these ongoing strategic collaborations, Gary is repositioning environmentally conscious health care as prudent, cost-effective and easily within reach.