By Thaddeus Rumple
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, New Hampshire, has been doing some very impressive work on sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The story of what they are doing can only be partly told, because the effort is ongoing. Nevertheless, it is an impressive undertaking to see.
The latest effort is a new solar array that was inaugurated in November at DHMC. Sitting on the roof of the Heater Road facility, the array consists of 378 Trina solar panels of 355 watts each, for a total capacity of a little over 134 kilowatts. It is expected to deliver about 10% of the electricity the building uses each year. It supplies power under a power purchase agreement with its builder, Norwich Technologies of White River Junction, Vermont, and DHMC did not have to capitalize it. As often happens with solar systems of this size, once the work was started, it was completed very quickly. The permitting process was concluded in October of this year, and the array was running in November.
That is just the latest effort. The list of DHMC’s sustainability successes is long. Zac Conaway, DHMC’s manager of waste, recycling and training, explained that the efforts toward sustainability and pollution reduction started over two decades ago, in 1996, with the incinerator. Concerns had developed over incineration of waste, a process that did not just use energy, it also produced pollution.
Waste problems for medical facilities are not easy. The risk that waste can spread diseases is very real, and so it cannot be safely taken off to landfills. There is always the worry that some pathogen will spread. So DHMC incinerated its waste. By 1996, however, the issue of air pollution was getting attention. Sterilizing waste in an autoclave was more expensive than incineration, and it still took quite a lot of energy, but it was much less polluting, and that was a public health issue.
With time, DHMC identified and acted on more issues. Leadership of other health care facilities began to take notice. So did the Environmental Protection Agency, which singled out the hospital for an award.
In 2009, the hospital also began calculating its ecological footprint. Its reviews covered by-products, built-land, energy, food, transportation, waste, and water, as it searched for ways to be better for the environment and for patients.
Articles started to appear in magazines devoted to such things as hospital management. In its October, 2013 edition, Becker’s Hospital Review named DHMC one of America’s 50 greenest hospitals.
The acclaim was reiterated by the same publication in 2015. John Leigh, DHMC’s Environmental Sustainability advisor, was quoted as saying, “This is reinforcement that D-H has been ‘ahead of the curve’ in realizing that human health and the health of our natural environment are fundamentally interconnected; that environmental sustainability work is an important component of population health.”
DHMC had by that time done extensive work in a variety of areas. A conversion in heating fuel from number 6 fuel oil to compressed natural gas had reduced a number of pollutants impressively. A new building had been designed and built to the LEED Silver standard. The food being served had been upgraded to include more fresh, organic, local produce. Care had been given in multiple areas to large reductions in waste. Patients were being offered bus service to reduce the amount of fossil fuels they burned getting to and from the hospital. Health and safety became major considerations for the products bought and used by the hospital, not just health products, but cleaning products, tools, and even carpets.
We might wonder how many people actually consider the green credentials of an operating room (OR). In May of 2015, Practice Greenhealth recognized DHMC as the number one hospital in the United States for its OR team’s work in reducing annual case-cart instrument kits, and awarded DHMC its national “Greening the OR” award.
The sustainability actions undertaken by DHMC have produced impressive reductions in costs in addition to safety and health benefits. The work of reducing the case-cart instrument kits not only cut them from the waste stream, it saved the hospital $1.5 million. That is money that could be spent on better health care for everyone.
We asked Steve Cutter, the Director of Engineering Services at DHMC, whether he had seen any effects of the work on sustainability. He immediately spoke of his concerns about climate change, which can have profound effects on the environment, including on the health of people.
Cutter also spoke of sustainability goals for the future. “We have a long list of ‘stretch goals’ that have been approved for 2020. These are goals that will take a lot of work.”
DHMC seems to have done a lot of work already.
In the next issue of Green Energy Times, we will take a look at more of what DHMC is doing. One thing we will look into is the geothermal heating DHMC is beginning to use for buildings. We will also get into the list of goals. But there will certainly be more to talk about than those.