Going Green, Saving Greenbacks: 4 Areas of Sustainability and Cost Savings

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If hospitals and health systems focus their efforts on becoming a "sustainable" organization to reduce their costly environmental footprints, they could realize savings of $15 billion over 10 years, according to a study from The Commonwealth Fund (pdf).

Hospitals are among the most energy-intensive facilities in the country, and energy can consume upwards of 3 percent of a hospital's operating budget. Between the wasted costs and pollutant emissions, environmentally unsound practices have a major impact on public health.

Researchers looked at four main areas where hospitals could improve their sustainability to both help the environment and public health while also saving billions in unnecessary costs.

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1. Energy use reduction.
Using five example hospitals, Commonwealth Fund researchers found that energy-related interventions such as lighting upgrades, variable-frequency drives, high-efficiency electric motors, fume hoods and many more could save hospitals almost $1 billion over five years.

2. Waste reduction. Waste disposal can be an expensive venture, but making improvements can make immediate environmental impacts and long-term cost savings. For example, the best-cited waste reduction interventions included recycling plastics and 20 other materials, growing food in an on-site garden and composting food waste from kitchens and cafeterias, among others.

3. Reprocessing and reuse of OR supplies. Operating room supplies that are reprocessed and/or reused (i.e., cleaning and sterilizing single-use medical devices at a reduced price) can save the hospital money from the supply chain side as well as the waste reduction side. In fact, SUD reprocessing savings could average $12 per procedure.

4. Reformulation of OR supply packs. OR packs are prepackaged supplies for specific surgeries. If hospitals reach out to suppliers to leave certain items out that are not normally used, money and waste could be immediately saved.

Some of these initiatives require hospital CFOs and executives to conduct short-term capital budgeting. For cash-strapped safety-net hospitals, researchers suggested the aforementioned interventions be funded through federal and state funds and grants.

"Based on this initial study, agencies and organizations that regulate and advise healthcare systems would do well to increase their educational efforts in regard to sustainability interventions for both their institutional and societal cost-saving consequences," the researchers wrote. "Although no single sustainability intervention will bend America's steadily rising healthcare cost curve, the national adoption of the proven environmental innovations described in this study would help. They are needed without delay."

More Articles on Hospital Costs:

How Green Practices Can Save Hospitals Millions

Green Saves Green: How Baptist Health South Florida's Environmental Strategy is Paying Off

How Gundersen Lutheran Health System Will Be Energy Independent by 2014

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