Going Green: 5 Ways Hospitals Can Help the Environment

In 2009, St. Joseph, Mo.-based Heartland Health began a journey to go “green.” It was then the health system’s COO Curt Kretzinger approached David Jones, vice president of support services, with the challenge to become an environmentally friendly facility.

The hospital began its green initiative, which it cleverly titled “Jones ‘n to be Green’ after its unofficial Green leader, by forming a green committee and opened it to all levels of employees with an interest in reducing the system’s carbon footprint. The group began its efforts by defining what ‘going green’ meant for Heartland Health: 65 percent of efforts would be around lowering energy use, 25 percent around transportation and 10 percent around reusing and recycling. “The biggest thing you can do to protect the environment and lower costs is reducing energy use, says Mr. Jones. “It has the most bang for your buck.”

After setting energy as a priority, the green team used the Premier healthcare alliance’s “Executive Scorecard on the Environment” to score its environmental friendliness and identify areas of opportunity. Changes were incorporated into the health system’s facility plan and implemented. While the hospital made numerous changes to reduce its carbon footprint, here are a few of the most notable.

1. Replace inefficient lighting. Heartland began its quest to improve its energy efficiency by replacing fluorescent and other inefficient lighting with energy efficient bulbs. The facility plan was also altered to require the replacement of bulbs every two years. “As bulbs age, their light output diminishes; thus they need more energy to operate,” says Mr. Jones. The change also created an unintended benefit, “People thought we’d painted and replaced the carpet.” Additionally, maintenance workers readjusted how indirect lighting was aimed so that less lighting was needed.

2. Upgrade HVAC system, other equipment and materials. Another major change Heartland made was to upgrade its HVAC system, adding monitoring tools and automated controls, as well as its boiler controls. Additionally, the facility plan called for thicker insulation of windows and walls. As a result of these and the lighting changes, the system was able to bring its energy costs per square foot down from $2.92 in 2007 to $2.39 today, despite a 30 percent increase in energy rates. Reducing energy use also reduced the number of generators required to keep the system running during the 8-10 power outages the hospital experiences each year.

3. Ensure vendor contracts require recycling of waste. Mr. Jones worked to find a paper shredding vendor that would agree to recycle the paper waste after it was shredded. Hospital employees were then encouraged to put all paper waste in the shredding bins, not just those with sensitive material, since it would mean the waste would be recycled. The hospital also found a cardboard baler willing to recycle the hospital’s cardboard waste, which averaged 1,500 pounds per day from 2009-2010. The changes saved more than 15,300 trees, 342,400 gallons of oil and 2,703 cubic yards of landfill space, according to Heartland’s estimates.

4. Replace vehicles with energy efficient models. Heartland has one security vehicle that patrol its campus, which used to fuel up 2-3 times per week. After purchasing hybrid vehicles, trips to the gas station dropped to once every week and a half, creating significant savings on gas costs. The hospital also has an electric charging station available.

5. Grease from cafeteria fryers recycled into fuel. One of the more unique changes Heartland made was contracting with a vendor that would remove fryer grease out of dietary services. The new vendor charges less to remove the grease than the previous vendor, because it is paid a nominal fee for the grease by another group that converts it into fuel.

In the future, Heartland will focus on improving its waste management and is currently in the processes of using a centralized waste management service for all of its facilities, says Mr. Jones. He calls Heartland’s journey to become a green facility a rewarding one, and he hopes more hospitals will start making similar changes to lessen their impact on the environment.

A Possible Solution to High COBRA Premiums

COBRA costs in the 2006 survey averaged $9,914 per year, 19% higher than two years ago. That’s on average $826 per month. If you elect COBRA coverage, you must make the initial premium payment within 45 days of your COBRA enrollment. If you don’t make the initial premium payment within those 45 days, your coverage will typically be terminated.

Now, as a rule people enroll for COBRA benefits for one of several reasons and they could be, lay off, retirement, change in job status such as reduction in hours, death of a spouse or divorce to name a few. As I’m sure you’ve noticed none of the reasons I mentioned for getting on COBRA are positive life changes, in fact the only positive reason I can find for COBRA would be retirement (if it is voluntary).

In the summer of 2002 my family fell into this issue directly as I was laid off from my manufacturing job here in southeast Michigan. My monthly COBRA payment was $786.00 per month. For any average working class family this financial burden would be devastating and our family was no exception. Our issue matched those of many other families and was simply this; our income had been reduced to my unemployment check. That unemployment income amounted to $1448.00 per month, minus $786.00 for COBRA left us a grand total of $662.00 per month to cover all our other expenses, seriously? And even that amount was before taxes!

The question I needed to answer was this: Do I pay the $786 per month and deplete our savings account substantially faster or simply go without heath insurance until I found new employment. My plan was to go without, until finding new employment. Then a few days later my wife informed me she was pregnant, thus more or less forcing us to pay the high premium and mind you this price was for an HMO plan!

A few years after our dilemma had come to pass my best friend found him self in the same situation we were in. Out of work with no benefits and financially strapped. Now for my friend COBRA was not even an option as he had recently remarried and had six children living with him. Fortunately for him I had found an alternative.

The alternative is Consumer Driven Health care. There are several companies that offer this product, I directed him to one named Ameriplan USA. I selected Ameriplan for several reasons, 1. They are the innovator of this line of Health care. 2. They are the industry leader. 3. Most importantly to me they have strong ties to the Consumer Health Alliance, the governing body that regulates their industry.

When he looked into it and found the program would save him over $600 per month in premiums along with nearly $700 on immediate Dental needs his family had they enrolled immediately.

I sincerely wish I had this information myself in 2002 when my family was faced with its health care crisis. This alternative would have saved us several thousand dollars along with giving us the security desired in a great health care plan. That is the reason I chose to write this article now. For all of you who may feel trapped in the same place my family was a few years ago, I want to let you know there is an alternative. For those of you that are content with your COBRA, and can afford the premiums great. For those of you who can’t, there is another way.

Ray Jernukian was born in Detroit and has lived his entire life in southeast Michigan. He is an Entrepreneur engaged in a newer industry known as Consumer Driven Health Care or Reduced Fee for Service Plans. Along with his wife Lisa, this couple is determined and has a mission. There mission is to help every family ensure they have great health care. In today’s economic situation with the Health Insurance industry skyrocketing that is an undaunted task. But they have found a vehicle that allows individuals to protect their spouses and children from falling through the cracks of the Health care system.