Harnessing the Power of Sustainability

Lola Butcher
TrusteeMag.com

 

Hospitals are taking advantage of low-cost high-impact ways to reduce energy expenses.

When Rey Tuazon analyzes electricity and gas bills for Adventist Midwest Health, a four-hospital system serving the western suburbs of Chicago, he is just as valuable to the organization as is a busy physician.

"The mission of the hospital, of course, is saving peoples' lives, and I am part of the mission," says Tuazon, the system's regional energy utilities consultant. "My regional budget is around $6 million for the four hospitals and if I can save $1 million or $1.5 million, then I'm doing my job and supporting the mission."

That savings may be used to buy medical equipment, hire clinicians or keep premiums in the community lower. "If you save $1 million, that's equal to at least $25 million of revenue, and that's a lot of patients that you have to see to make that same million dollars," says Cathy Fischer, chair of Envision, an energy management subsidiary of Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis.

Even more important, health systems that reduce energy consumption make their communities healthier.

"One of our major challenges in our community is asthma, and we are addressing that by utilizing less energy and, therefore, putting fewer toxins into the air," says Kay Winokur, vice president of quality and professional services and co-chair of the green committee at Beaumont Health System in the Detroit market.
This year, Gundersen will become the nation's first energy-independent health system, meaning that it will produce more energy than it consumes from fossil fuel sources. In addition to supporting the local economy through its renewable projects, Gundersen serves as a role model for its community.

"We do a lot of tours, a lot of teaching and we are out in the community interfacing with people who are supporting sustainability," Fischer says. "It really provides an opportunity for us to teach the young and old about sustainability and the benefits to them and to our community."

While being energy-independent may be out of reach for most health systems, dramatic energy savings are not. Jeff Rich, executive director of Gundersen's Envision program, says health care facilities, which are about 2.5 times more energy-intensive than commercial office buildings, may be among the highest energy wasters in the land.

"Most health systems can save 20 to 30 percent of their energy costs by becoming more energy-efficient, compared [with that of] their benchmark institutions," he says.

Building Green

The board of directors for PeaceHealth, a nine-hospital system serving Washington, Oregon and Alaska, made sustainability a priority when it adopted a strategic energy management plan, or SEMP, in 2007. Among other things, the plan helps to expedite decisions that support energy conservation, says Gary Hall, system director of facilities and construction for PeaceHealth.

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