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Cost savings? Green? The right thing to do!

Posted May 25 2009 10:34pm

The May/June 09 issue of Healthcare Executive  is all about healthcare greening beyond recycling bins.  However, I noticed that a few of my favorite opportunities were missed, or perhaps are not realized by the writers.  So, I' m adding my thoughts on a few of my favorites that go beyond the more obvious reducing waste and recycling.

1.  Motion sensitive light and other switches - Do you realize how many lights are in a hospital and run 24 hours a day/seven days a week?  A lot, even in the smallest of hospitals and the increasing cost of electricity adds up to a tidy sum. Have your hospital electrician, or a contractor, switch them out and then watch your electric bills decrease.  Lagniappe:  This is also one less place for those nasty bugs to hide and it may help your infection control efforts! :)

2.  Lighting retrofit and new bulbs - there is a cost, but usually there is a return on the investment after just a couple of years if you replace ballast and switch to the new energy-efficient bulbs.

3.  Boilers, HVAC, ice machines, fans, freezers, refrigerators, and other major equipment - how old is your equipment and can you recover the replacement cost after a couple of years with the energy savings you will realize?  I think it is worth looking into, especially if you aren' t in California and don' t have to send the project through OSHPD  for approval.

4.  Unused phone lines - over periods of years, hospitals usually wind up with a lot of old phone and modem lines that could be cut off to save the $20 or so monthly line charge.  Maybe, there isn' t a significant energy savings to this one, but there certainly is a cost saving.

5.  Expired medical supplies and old medical equipment - there are several organizations that accept donations or purchase old medical equipment and supplies (like  Direct Relief )  to provide needed healthcare in developing countries.  It may result in a minimal recovery of some cost, but more importantly it will result in a recycling of equipment and allow you to avoid throwing some unused supplies in the trash.

6.  Reprocess one-time use items (think ortho surgery) - some vendors will reprocess and re-sell certain one time use items to you at a lower cost.  They guarantee the quality/performance of the item and you save money.  Ask your vendors if they have re-processing programs.  If they don' t see if their competitors do!

7.  Mercury - again, I don' t know if there is a significant cost savings, but have you had your staff hunt through drawers, cabinets for old equipment containing mercury?  If you do try this, don' t be surprised if someone finds an old thermometer or other mercury containing item -- even if your staff have searched before.  Make it fun and give out a prize to anyone who finds something!

8.  Patient belonging bags - switching from plastic to reusable patient belonging bags was mentioned in the magazine and there is an associated cost increase.  However, imagine all of those patients shopping and walking around town with your logo on the bag.  Think of it as going green and use some of your public relations funds to help support the additional cost.

9.  Promote carpooling, walking and bike riding to work.  Identifying a place to shower and bike lockers/racks will help motivate some to get healthy while helping with the green.  In addition, it might even help relieve some of that parking problem your staff have been complaining about.

10.  Cleaning the hospital is really important and I for one don' t want to sacrifice cleanliness for green.  However, if you can find green cleaning products that save costs and help the earth and still clean, then make the switch.

11.  Foam soap - this one is a great one because it is just as effective and more fun that slimy hand soap -- and it saves a lot of money.

12.  Change the filters in your air exchanges often to improve air quality in your facility and reduce illness in your employees.

13.  There is a balance between using glass & china or paper plates and cups.  Look at the cost of water in your community to help with your decision.  It makes more sense to use glass/china in Louisiana and paper in California.

14.  I think solar farms will be a great opportunity for hospitals in small and rural communities where you are most likely to have some wide open space.  Keep an eye out for any funding that will help with the up-front costs.

15.  Look at your patient accounting functions and consider adding online bill payment options and electronic communications to reduce postage and paper.

16.  If you are in the market for new printers, consider the new double-sided printers to help save on paper.

17.  Look into for alternatives for your generator fuel (methane, biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen), 

Another bit of lagniappe for some of the energy efficiency initiatives listed above may mean your generator fuel goes farther in a disaster!

There is help available for some green efforts ,usually in the form of rebates and assistance with up-front costs.  Check with your utility companies and see if there is a Joint Powers Authority addressing energy resources in your community.  The example I' m most familiar with is  Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance.  A nother resource is the  Local Government Commission.

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