Hospitals look to make themselves more sustainable, self-sufficient
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which shutdown several hospitals in New York City, attention is being focused on a national movement among hospitals to make themselves more sustainable, to save money, but also more self-sufficient, in these changing environmental times.
In an effort to stabalize energy costs, hospitals nationwide are investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Hospitals and clinics are the second-most intensive users of energy, after the food service industry, and contribute roughly 8 percent of U.S. global warming gas emissions. Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, says it’s no surprise that hospitals use so much energy.
"They operate 24/7. They have a lot of electronic equipment and they continue to get more electronic equipment. More MRIs, more robotics — all of these are enormous energy users," he said.
Because healthcare consumes so much financially, in addition to energy-wise, Cohen says it's the ideal place to focus attention.
"We need to have health care institutions be models for climate preparedness and climate resiliency so that in an extreme weather event maybe the hospital or the clinic is the one place with reliable power to keep medicines refrigerated because they’re using renewable energy," he said.
On the shore of Boston Harbor, Partners Healthcare, one of the nation’s leading health care providers, is incorporating conservation and the strategy of climate resilience in the replacement for its Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. When Partners decided to construct the new Spaulding at harbor side, projected sea level rise was part of their design.
John Messervy, director of capital and facilities planning, said several specific features of the hospital have been designed with sea level change in mind.
"The ground floor of the building is set approximately 30 inches above the 500-year storm level," he said. "We’ve had three 100-year storms in the past couple of decades. So, they are coming."
A massive cluster of generators and other heavy electrical gear on top in a penthouse is visible all the way from the ground.
"We’ve raised most of our sensitive electrical equipment and phone system and generating equipment," Messervy said. "In the name of providing a resilient environment for the continuance of health care services in the middle of a storm that’s what we ended up doing and I think you’ll see more and more hospitals and other buildings following suit."
In 2008 when energy price increases led to a $40 million hole in their budget, Partners set a goal of reducing its energy use by 25 percent. They are incorporating the latest green building concepts throughout their hospitals and plan to build remote solar farms to help power their systems.
The new Spaulding is being built in Charlestown on land reclaimed from an abandoned boat yard.
"We’re using a lot of the found materials on site. Granite and old ships’ timbers because this after all was a ship building community here in Charlestown so we found a lot of live-oak timbers that are being used both for site furniture and also refinished and being used inside the building," Messervy said.
Inside the ground floor of the still-under-construction building, workers are putting the finishing touches on a huge atrium that looks out onto a large plaza at the water’s edge.
"We’ve designed the building to be quite thin and long so the sun can penetrate deeply into the space and reduce the amount of artificial light that we need," Messervy explained.
Patients can spend a lot of time in a rehabilitation hospital, and natural light with views of nature have been shown to improve the quality of recovery. The patient rooms, many of them look at on Boston's harbor — prime real estate, not the sort of place you'd expect to see a hospital.
Messervy said that's in part because the hospital wanted to stay within Boston, something that's hard to do in a city with very little open space.
"This site was available that the city owned and unfortunately it was contaminated," he explained. "And once we started digging and testing we found a lot of chemicals that we had to remove so let’s say it was a discounted site and we paid for the cleanup."
The hospital group has started with very basic steps to cut energy use, like turning off heat and air in rooms that are not occupied.
"I’d say 40 percent of the savings that we’re realizing are coming from reducing temperature and air changes in unoccupied spaces such as operating rooms in particular," he said.
Steps like those, and others that are a bit more involved, will help the hospital system meet its 25 percent goal — and save about $16 million.
"We hope to go further than that as we get more involved in renewables and we hope to continue to drive those costs down at the same time as we implement more cogeneration facilities, combined heat and power facilities across the hospitals that will also realize another 25 percent or so savings," Messervy added.
The company is expecting pay back on its investment in less than four years.
Cohen, of Health Care without Harm, says hospital around the country are buying into this same approach.
"Health Care Without Harm and our membership organization, Practice Green Health, and 12 other hospital systems around the country, have launched a sector-wide initiative called the Healthier Hospital Initiative," he said. "At the moment there are 500 hospitals that are sponsors of this initiative. We’ve been able to recruit another 200 hospitals and our goal is to reach 2,000 hospitals."
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