With baby boomers now in their 60s and a round of hospitals built in the 1950s outdated, billions of dollars will be spent in the United States over the next decade.
Health-care facilities are environmental and energy hogs – from heating and cooling demands to cleaning supplies to procedures practiced in the name of health.
The green movement aims to reduce waste, cut back power needs, replace chemicals and help hospitals get patients in and out more quickly.
And they are making headway.
Some 55% of hospitals surveyed by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering and Health Facilities Management said they specified green or environmentally friendly construction materials for some current construction and renovation projects, and another 15% said they want green on all projects.
Those specs can range from energy-efficient mechanical systems to no-VOC interior materials to large windows providing natural daylight in patient rooms to buying and serving locally grown foods.
Cities, counties, states and the federal government are specifying green or sustainable practices for new buildings, “an indicator that there is a higher level of receptivity” to the practice, says Gail Vittori, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems Inc. in Austin. She also headed the committee that put together the “Green Guide for Health Care,” a volume of suggested practices for hospitals and other health-care facilities.
Studies show that patients who can see trees and grass have a shorter stay, reduced stress and pain, need less medication and face lower medical error rates, Vittori says.
Hospital executives at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin even had an equipment shopping list while planning the 500,000-sq-ft hospital that opened in 2007.
They found a sterilizer that only uses a few gallons of water per cycle, says Alan R. Bell, director of design and construction for Seton Network facilities, including Dell Children’s.
“The goal was to be as sustainable as possible, trying to achieve LEED platinum,” he says. “The payback on an initiative had to be a maximum of eight years, but most are five years.”
The hospital did make it to LEED platinum, the first in the world to do so.
It also has a central plant, built by Austin Energy, with a gas-fired turbine that is 85% more efficient. The hospital sold it to AE and is buying it back over time, using the cash to invest in a more efficient glass, Bell says.
As a result of the Dell experience, Seton has built three other hospitals using similar materials and the LEED practices, though it is not seeking certification for them, Bell says.
Lawton Indian Hospital, in Lawton, Okla., built a 36,756-sq-ft expansion in 2007, becoming the first LEED-certified hospital in the Indian Health Service system, earning LEED silver.
That meant some changes on the job, especially for subs who had not worked on a sustainable project before, says Steve Hughes, project manager for Flintco Cos. Inc. of Tulsa, the general contractor.
“We had conversations about that at the beginning, and a lot of coordination for recycling,” he says.
They also had to work on coordination of the needed documentation.
The expansion has high windows along the main corridor that bring in natural light, photo sensors and occupancy sensors in rooms, reflective Energy Star roofing and more than 10% recycled material. Also, 72% of electricity use is from renewable sources, and 75% of construction and demolition was kept from the landfill.