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Groundbreaking Report Spotlights Benefits of Going Green for Hospitals

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), a program that encourages hospitals to go healthier for patients by going greener, is marking its one-year anniversary by releasing the first-ever report (2012 Milestone Report) that quantifies the success of sustainability initiatives among hospitals in the U.S. and Canada.

HHI is made up of 13 sponsoring health systems and three nonprofit organizations including Health Care Without Harm, The Center for Health Design and Practice Greenhealth. As we reported in June, many hospitals are exploring ways to lower costs through environmentally friendly options and sustainable energy strategies.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

“The HHI Milestone report shows that hospitals are increasingly embedding sustainability into their core operating system,” said Gary Cohen, President of Health Care Without Harm and Founder of HHI.  “HHI also offers hospitals a powerful way to meet the Triple Aim of improving the patient experience, addressing population health and lower their costs.”

The report demonstrates how the green efforts of 370 hospitals are translating to substantial cost-savings and a reduction in waste. In addition to recycling more than 50 million pounds of materials and saving approximately $32 million from single-use medical device reprocessing, the report also found that participating hospitals are:

  • Preventing 61 million pounds of waste from going to landfills (among 44 member hospitals).
  • Creating more healthful meals for their patients by limiting overall meat intake, decreasing the amount of meat served by 10 percent from 2010-12.
  • Increasing the overall amount of money spent on healthful beverages from 10 percent to 62 percent.
  • One hospital reported purchasing more environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, spending on average more than 37.75 percent of their cleaning supply budgets on green cleaning products.

“At Practice Greenhealth, our strength comes from the collective expertise and knowledge that members bring to the table about what works to make our health care more sustainable,” said Laura Wenger, RN, Executive Director of Practice Greenhealth. “HHI’s 2012 Milestone Report is proof that hospitals of all sizes benefit from this wisdom.”

The Commonwealth Fund 2012 report found that if health care organizations, such as hospitals, adopted sustainable practices, industry savings could add up to an estimated $5.4 billion in 5 years and more than $15 billion over 10 years.  The study also concludes that health systems that embrace green initiatives are examples for the health care system as a whole to follow.

“As part of a preventive approach to controlling chronic disease, increasing numbers of hospitals have committed to minimizing adverse environmental impact of their operations on patients, staff, and the community, serving as role models for the health sector and society at large,” the study authors noted.

Are health systems in your community embracing green initiatives? What do you see as the major barriers to more hospitals going green and what incentives could be created to overcome these challenges?

Categories: Cost-Savings

Hospitals See Early Signs of Cost-Savings through Energy Efficiency Project

Hospitals are notorious for being energy hogs. With 24/7 operation, lots of energy-consuming equipment, and strict codes for lighting, air circulation and heating/cooling, there should be little wonder why. In fact, it’s estimated that the operation and construction of hospitals uses five percent of all the energy consumed in the U.S. (ENERGY STAR).

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

Targeting 100! is making inroads to reverse this trend. The research project is a roadmap for hospital design, construction and operation, seeking to develop more energy-efficient hospitals at little additional first capital cost investment from the owner. It provides climate-specific guidance for hospitals to achieve the goals of the 2030 Challenge for 2010-15, with a 60 percent energy reduction from the current U.S. average energy performance while complying with U.S. energy and health-related codes and improving the quality of healing and work environments.

“At a time when health care reimbursements are decreasing for many health care organizations, spending on energy is one area that can become less costly with greater efficiency,” said Heather Burpee, Research Assistant Professor, Health Design & Energy Efficiency, University of Washington. “Reducing energy use also has a direct impact on carbon emissions, thus having a positive impact on environmental health.”

Though energy represents a small portion of a hospital’s overall operating costs, reducing utility expenditures can create a low-risk, high-yield and stable investment:

  • $1 of net savings translates into $50 of gross revenue.
  • For a typical Targeting 100! hospital that saves 60 percent on energy and 35 percent on annual utility costs, the average annual savings of $575,000 equates to $28.5 million in gross revenue that would have otherwise been generated through providing patient services.

“In this way, the operations of the hospital are less expensive and the extra ‘revenue’ can be used to service additional care, acquire new equipment or go back into additional energy efficiency upgrades,” Burpee said.

According to Targeting 100!, one of the biggest uses of energy within a hospital is re-heating centrally cooled air. For example, at Vancouver, Washington’s Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center (LSCMC), a 220-bed, state-of-the-art facility – which acted as a benchmark for the program – re-heat consumed 40 percent of the hospital’s energy.

The Targeting 100! program saves re-heat energy expenditures by reducing loads on the building envelope through solar control, turning down air changes in unoccupied areas, and other mechanical ventilation strategies.

Burpee highlighted several recent Targeting 100! projects that are starting to demonstrate positive results:

The Swedish Issaquah Hospital in Issaquah, Washington is exceeding its energy goal of 125 kBtu/SF (amount of heat required to change the temperature of one pound of water by one degree fahrenheit at sea level) per year by a significant margin after just nine months.

Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic at the University of Washington Medical Center is on track to see an annual energy cost benefit of approximately $1.32 million – a return on investment of more than 50 percent that will pay back the provider’s investment in less than two years. According to the project’s engineer, the total investment needed to implement the energy-reduction strategies amounted to less than one year of typical operating costs.

“Developing a healthier and more sustainable hospital environment requires an exceptionally high level of owner support to achieve carefully gauged high performance goals,” Burpee said. “A project team structure and culture that enables cooperative decision-making with key stakeholders is essential for creating a truly high-performance hospital: one that has a low-energy footprint and embodies qualities that foster health, productivity, and well-being.”

Targeting 100! notes that implementing energy-efficiency options incurs a three percent incremental cost premium, with the inclusion of a utility incentive, and that cost savings in some categories can offset incremental cost increases for energy improvements in other areas. These energy options would pay back, on average, in less than 11 years, a nine percent return on investment.

Should a three percent increase in capital cost be considered “cost-neutral?” Are relatively modest increases in initial costs for strategies that yield projected long-term energy savings a good investment?

Categories: Cost-Savings

Eco-Friendly Strategies Plant Seeds for Long-Term Savings Among Hospitals

In the past couple of years, 149 hospitals saved $55 million as a result of developing and implementing environmentally friendly initiatives. So why are more and more health providers going green and what’s behind this rising trend?

David Sheon

David Sheon

“Increasingly health care leaders are recognizing the critical role environmental stewardship plays in quality health care,” said Janet Brown, Director of Facility Engagement, Practice Greenhealth. “Going Green is moving beyond the blue bin by the photo copier and in alignment with other strategic priorities – prevention, wellness, mission, staff engagement, community benefit, fiscal responsibility and the right thing to do.”

Hospitals are going green in many ways, from turning to sustainable energy to finding synergies in hospital transportation services. Dell’s Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, illustrate how being environmentally friendly translates to significant cost savings. Both hospitals, in fact, earned platinum certification from LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design), the most widely recognized and widely used green building program in the world.

  • Dell’s Children’s Hospital saved $6.8 million as a result of a successful collaboration with Austin Energy that eliminated the need to build a central plant (source of energy typically used to power multiple buildings). Using a combined heat and power (CHP) system instead, Dell Children’s became one of the first hospitals in Texas to leverage an onsite energy system as its primary source of electricity and one of the first grid-independent hospitals in the U.S.
  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reduced its annual lab energy consumption by $270,000, while lessening its carbon footprint and maintaining a commitment to safety in lab and research facilities as a top priority. In addition to reducing its annual lab energy by recycling lab materials, the medical center also combined its transportation service with other hospitals, began using reusable plastic mugs, and sent their leftover food to the compost.

Health systems participating in the Healthier Hospital Initiative – a national campaign to improve environmental health and sustainability in health care through innovative approaches – also report strong fiscal returns:

  • The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) saved $21.7 million by diverting 364 tons of waste through reprocessing single use devices in their hospitals.
  • Kaiser Permanente saved $4 million in annual energy costs after its initial purchase of environmentally responsible computers for all of their facilities.

Going green benefits stakeholders in health care and beyond. When hospitals reduce expenses through environmentally smart investments, they improve their overall long-term performance and encourage the community to make eco-conscious choices too. When hospitals save costs patients also benefit because the money can be put toward health practitioners or other needs to improve care.

“There are numerous win-win opportunities for cost saving environmental improvement strategies in the health care sector,” Brown said. “As health care leaders become increasingly engaged, environmental stewardship programming is further integrated into the day to day operations of the vibrant health care environment and its benefits are maximized.”

Are hospitals in your local community adopting environmentally friendly initiatives? What could they be doing to conserve energy, reduce waste or go green in some other way?

Categories: Cost-Savings