It’s no secret that healthcare facilities are among the most energy-intensive building environments. They operate on an around-the-clock lifecycle and must adhere to strict regulations. Today’s hospitals are under tremendous pressure to serve growing patient populations with shrinking budgets, and facilities staff are responsible for the difficult task of maintaining facility health while ensuring patient safety and regulatory compliance.
There has never been a greater need for hospitals to improve efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness. Unfortunately, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) faces a number of unique challenges in terms of achieving its energy and sustainability goals, most notably its aging infrastructure coupled with today’s climate of rising overhead costs, limited budgets, and changing government mandates. According to a recent VA Scorecard on Sustainability/Efficiency, only 15% of VA facilities are considered sustainable, and 23% of facilities are not on track to meet their energy intensity reduction goals.
To address these challenges, the VA partnered with energy and sustainability expert Schneider Electric to embark on an innovative infrastructure improvement project at its medical center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, part of the Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8). The project encompasses more than $7 million in facility improvements and upgrades and will drive more than $1 million in guaranteed annual energy savings for the hospital—which will be reinvested to improve the patient care environment and help meet the VA’s long- and short-term sustainability goals.
Like many other hospital facilities, the VA Medical Center in San Juan was facing challenges from aging building systems and equipment that no longer operated efficiently, running the risk of negatively impacting building occupants. By modernizing the facility and its core building systems, the VA is able to improve working conditions for hospital staff and care conditions for patients.
A significant portion of the work focuses on water conservation efforts to alleviate high water bills brought on by recent drought conditions and a remote water island environment, which drive up the price of fresh water. By installing VA-compliant low-flow plumbing fixtures, the facility will be able to significantly reduce water consumption, which translates to tangible utility savings.
In addition to improving water efficiency at the Puerto Rico facility, the project will also address a number of energy conservation measures including lighting, HVAC, and advanced metering system upgrades. Energy savings will come from a variety of strategies, including:
- Installing energy-efficient LED lighting and occupancy sensors to turn off lights during unoccupied times
- Replacing existing aged pump and fan motors with premium efficiency motors
- Installing power-returned fan equipment with variable frequency drives
- Upgrading high-flow plumbing fixtures with lower-flow fixtures
These facility upgrades will directly impact patient
comfort by way of improved lighting in patient areas
and better efficiency and control of heating and air conditioning equipment.
The project will also have a positive impact on the local economy and bring jobs to the San Juan community, with local subcontractors being brought on for the installation phase of the project. Working with local engineering and construction communities is a significant advantage for projects of this nature because they have unique knowledge and experience with procuring materials and handling potential weather impacts in the region.
Undertaking an infrastructure improvement project of this size while a busy facility is in full operation is no easy task. Contractors must be prepared to complete their work without impacting the daily operations of the facility, staff, or patients. To address these challenges, Schneider Electric developed a comprehensive healthcare impact plan during the planning phase of the project which clearly laid out any potential impact the project could have on staff, patient rooms, labs, waiting rooms, etc. The plan also includes detailed guidelines for contractors to follow in order to minimize the impact of the project on building occupants.
What’s more, the improvements are being delivered with no up-front capital investment through a guaranteed energy savings performance contract (ESPC). This project delivery method is often used to help publicly funded entities make capital improvements over longer payback periods and offers many long-term benefits such as improved facility efficiency, occupant comfort, financial management, and environmental protection.
The ESPC funding model has served as a key success factor in helping the VA meet federal mandates for energy reduction. Over the past several years, the VA has successfully implemented a number of ESPC projects at facilities across the country, and the Puerto Rico project represents a continuation of the VA’s strategy to complete much needed infrastructure projects without impacting the organization’s operating budget. ESPCs provide new resources to help the VA close its sustainability and efficiency gaps while also addressing the tight budget constraints that many VA facilities face.
The project marks an expansion of a long-term collaboration between Schneider Electric and the VA. In addition to the work being done at the VA Medical Center in San Juan, Schneider Electric has completed similar projects at three VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1) facilities, which will save $10 million in energy costs over the life of the projects. Schneider Electric has deep experience in serving Caribbean-based facilities, including the US Coast Guard in San Juan, as well as General Services Administration facilities in St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The VISN 8 is the nation’s largest system of hospitals and clinics serving more than 1.6 million veterans across Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. Services are provided through primary care supported by eight Joint Commission-accredited medical centers and more than 55 outpatient clinics. VISN 8 facilities provide a full range of high-quality, cost-effective medical, psychiatric, and extended care services in inpatient, outpatient, nursing home, and home care settings.
While keeping a hospital financially strong without jeopardizing the environment of care can be a daunting task, there are strategies to achieve sustainable savings that decrease operating expenses and boost bottom-line performance. By implementing energy efficiency measures, hospitals can follow the example set by the VA to reduce their operating costs while also improving the quality of care they deliver to patients. The added level of control and choice patients will have over their environment during their hospital stay has been proven to improve patient satisfaction.
“Through our partnership with Schneider Electric, we’re able to achieve energy efficiency we never imagined was possible and deliver new levels of comfort and care to our patients,” says Sixto Ortiz-Diaz, Energy Manager for the US Department of Veterans Affairs. “We are thrilled to be able to implement $7 million in needed capital improvements at no cost to our community through guaranteed revenues and savings which will play a key role in ensuring the delivery of the highest quality patient care for years to come.”
The opportunities for federal facilities managers to make smarter decisions about their buildings’ energy use are abundant, and the end result will ultimately be a win for patients, hospital staff, and the bottom line.