SustainableFacility — March/April 2011
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Going Green While Improving Environment Of Care
Laura Rygielski and Phillip Benz

MODERN, HIGH-PERFORMANCE SYSTEMS HELP HEALTHCARE FACILITIES REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMPTION WHILE MAKING PATIENTS AND STAFF MORE COMFORTABLE.

Hospital administrators are concerned about how the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act will affect their balance sheets. According to a recent American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) survey, more than two-thirds of hospital chief executives see financial challenges as their organization’s most serious problem.

No wonder hospital administrators, staff and caregivers are teaming up to manage costs without taking their eyes off healthcare’s other bottom line — providing an environment of care that contributes to positive patient outcomes.

Using green technology to improve building performance is a win-win opportunity for healthcare facilities. High-performance buildings equipped with modern heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) solutions, building automation systems and other sustainable features can deliver substantial savings in energy and related costs.

Meanwhile, dozens of studies cited by the Center for Health Design found direct ties between positive patient outcomes and the cleaner, safer, more comfortable indoor environment that these technologies enable.

HOSPITALS OFTEN OVERLOOK BENEFITS OF GOING GREEN

There is plenty of room for improvement in the energy and environmental performance of healthcare facilities. Inpatient facilities consume nearly three times the energy per square foot as the typical commercial building, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), producing more than 30 pounds of CO2 emissions per square foot. Only restaurants use more energy per square foot.

The EPA estimates that U.S. healthcare organizations spend a mindboggling $8.8 billion on energy each year. If that number is hard to grasp, consider that the agency estimates the average hospital spends an amount equal to or greater than 15 percent of profits on energy. A number that large should create a considerable target. But most hospital CEOs feel helpless when it comes to cutting their energy bills; according to ENERGY STAR, 75 percent say that energy costs are their least controllable expense.

PASSAVANT AREA HOSPITAL IMPROVES CARE ENVIRONMENT

In late 2008, management at Passavant Area Hospital began looking for ways to improve the quality of care at its facility, a 93-bed nonprofit community hospital located in Jacksonville, Ill., which serves five West Central Illinois counties.

During a preliminary study conducted with an energy services company (ESCO), Passavant gathered staff members’ thoughts on how the hospital’s physical environment affected clinical performance. After analyzing input, the management-ESCO team concluded that infrastructure improvements could help expedite the healing process, reduce the risk of infection, improve patient and staff satisfaction, and provide various other benefits.

Equally important to the management team was the opportunity to shrink the facility’s carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and leveraging the savings to offset improvement costs.

The team that conducted the study recommended an investment grade systems audit, which was performed in early 2009. The audit identified infrastructure improvements that would help the hospital enhance the environment of care, better manage energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After evaluating audit findings, the hospital’s board of directors approved a $2.3 million infrastructure improvement program that started in mid-2009 and was completed early in 2010.

IMPROVEMENTS DELIVER BENEFITS FOR PATIENTS, STAFF AND BOTTOM LINE

The improvements address a wide range of concerns raised by the staff. For example, new automated temperature controls improve comfort throughout the facility, eliminate the need to disturb patients to make Manual adjustments and let caregivers focus on patients’ needs. Upgrades to HVAC systems, ductwork and other infrastructure allow more precise air quality control, improving comfort and infection control. And more efficient HVAC components reduce noise levels, which is a response to noise complaints from staff and patients that creates, a better healing environment.

Energy savings for the project are estimated at more than $313,000 per year. According to a model developed by the EPA, that number provides a financial benefit to the hospital equal to about $7 million in incremental annual revenue. The energy savings provide environmental benefits equivalent to taking 525 cars off the streets each year.

By using an innovative energy performance contract, Passavant was able to use future energy and operational savings to help fund the project, which is expected to pay for itself in about 6.5 years.

FACILITY MANAGERS PLAY KEY ROLE IN IMPROVING PERFORMANCE

As administrators face the challenges of a dynamic and rapidly changing healthcare delivery system, they rely on the unique expertise of facility managers to make sure the organization is a good steward of the natural resources needed to keep the facility operating effectively.

By working with an experienced ESCO with a proven track record, facility managers can implement sustainable energy strategies that contribute to the hospital’s financial wellbeing and, more importantly, to its ability to serve the community and provide an environment of care that leads to consistently positive patient outcomes. A variety of professional organizations, including the National Association of Energy Service Companies (www.naesco.org) provide guidance on finding and selecting a qualified ESCO.
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