In the wake of the economic recession and reforms instated by the Affordable Healthcare Act (AHA), the impact to hospitals’ bottom line remains uncertain. According to a recent report by Moody’s, the federal government will cut reimbursements to hospitals by more than $150 billion over the next 10 years.
Some forward-thinking hospitals and health systems are starting to understand that greater energy efficiency can advance patient-care goals and are devoting more attention and resources to conservation initiatives.
A groundbreaking new study provides an innovative and cost-effective way for newly constructed hospitals nationwide to offset continuing economic challenges by reducing energy consumption by an average of 62 percent. The study, titled Targeting 100!, identifies a process that integrates architectural, mechanical and central plant systems to deliver significant efficiencies.
The biggest breakthrough comes from addressing the reheating of centrally-cooled air — the largest contributor to wasted energy in a hospital — which represents more than 40 percent of annual heating energy usage.
“More than any other single research initiative, Targeting 100! is effectively transforming U.S. healthcare to meet the low-energy and low-carbon future,” said Robin Guenther, the sustainable healthcare design leader at architecture firm Perkins+Will.
By combining energy-reduction design solutions — including sun and daylight shading controls, vacant room sensors, outdoor air supply with heat recovery systems, modified air delivery systems, thermal energy storage, and improved air-tightness and high-insulation values in windows and walls — a newly constructed, code-compliant hospital in the range of Targeting 100! saves between $500,000 and $800,000 in annual energy costs.
The newly released research is discussed in detail at the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab’s website.
“That’s one aspect of our work that makes it unique,” said Heather Burpee, a health-design and energy-efficiency research assistant professor at University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab. “Our peer reviewers — who came from all aspects of the design, construction and operation of hospitals — provided invaluable guidance and grounded our research in reality. Our primary goal is to get this research into the hands of people who are truly able to make a change.”
The new study looked at six distinct and diverse climate zones in the United States’ most populous regions —including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Seattle — to determine if integrated design methods could cut energy consumption and operating costs for hospitals nationwide. The team conducted a complete reassessment of the architectural systems, building mechanical systems and central plant systems to find a code-compliant path that achieves the highest-quality, lowest-energy hospital design for the least additional capital cost.
The resulting integrated-design approach delivers a 62 percent average reduction in energy consumption across all climate zones—and a 9 percent year-over-year average return on investment.
NBBJ, an architecture firm and study partner in the project, has designed several healthcare facilities that incorporate Targeting 100!’s strategies, including Seattle Children’s Bellevue Clinic, the University of Washington Medical Center’s Montlake Tower Expansion, and a large hospital in Northern California. That hospital will see an annual energy cost benefit of approximately $1,325,000 — a return on investment of more than 50 percent that will pay back the provider’s initial 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.
A Healthier Planet
The average hospital, many of which rely on power generated by coal, oil and natural gas, dumps about 15,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. Such emissions lead to and aggravate health conditions linked to poor air quality, like asthma and cardiovascular disease — an obvious inconsistency with the mandate to “first do no harm.” Yet many major players have been slow to go green.
The average energy savings for one Targeting 100! hospital prevents 4,500 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere each year. According to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, that’s the same as the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere by adding 3,400 acres of forests, taking 850 passenger cars off the road, or removing 600 households from the grid every year.
“Targeting 100! has delivered to the healthcare sector a compelling and preferred response to deep cuts in federal reimbursements that will require dramatic reductions in operational costs,” said Richard Beam, the construction and sustainability system director for Providence Health & Services. “It prescribes an energy-efficiency remedy that will ensure our shrinking revenue supports quality patient care in an environmentally responsible way. Targeting 100! is good for the patient — whether the Earth or humankind.”
Graphics: Targeting 100!