Regardless of what the truth is on the existence of global warming, hospitals are reducing pollution and saving money using strategies promoted by the Healthier Hospitals Initiative coalition.The Healthier Hospitals Initiative, sponsored by 13 large health systems, released its first milestone report, and was able to point to some noteworthy successes.
"Despite the fact that hospitals are getting bigger and both health care equipment and processes are becoming more energy-intensive, the overall energy intensity of America's hospitals is going down across all data pools," wrote the authors of the report. "This is something to celebrate."
The potential cost savings of the strategies can be sizable, and who would have thought that a Wisconsin health system could generate some of its savings from the production of dairy products and beer, among other energy sources. Gundersen Health System just announced its participation in a second project to burn dairy cow manure for energy, which has the added benefit of limiting the amount of phosphorous entering the water system. Gundersen already had a deal to capture biogas residue created from brewing beer at City Brewing Co., a contract brewer based in Gundersen's hometown of La Crosse. Last month, the system started up a biomass-powered boiler, which would get it closer to its goal of zero energy dependence, saving an estimated $500,000 a year. The biomass boiler uses clean, organic wood fuel, such as milling or forest residues, according to Gundersen. The woody biomass products are sourced locally and have no paints, glues or treatments on the wood.
Another example cited as a role model in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative report was Partners Healthcare in Boston, which developed what it calls a strategic energy master plan. After some detailed analysis, Partners implemented 230 energy conservation measures that it estimated had the potential to reduce consumption by 28 percent. The $61 million estimated cost of implementing the plan had an average payback of 3.7 years.
Energy wasn't the only area where hospitals are reducing costs while being more efficient from an environmental view. The recycling of medical devices sold for single use produced savings for participants in the initiative and is expected to grow larger, says Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, one of three not-for-profits also working on the Healthy Hospitals Initiative, the other two being the Center for Health Design and Practice Greenhealth. "There's some really big, big savings that hospitals are getting from device reprocessing," Cohen says.
The practice is becoming more mainstream with the added participation of some device-makers giving it a boost in recent years, he says. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also in Boston, implemented a single-use device-reprocessing program that in 2012 saved $375,000 and diverted almost 10,000 pounds of medical waste from either a landfill or incineration. Cohen predicts the overall numbers in the report to look even better in the future with more hospitals participating. "Next year it will look a lot more robust," he says.