As costs of health care rise and reimbursements for services continue to decline, local health care leaders are looking to become more efficient in day-to-day operations. A direct cost-savings opportunity is to improve a facility's energy efficiency.
A 2009 Alliant Energy Feasibility Study of Winneshiek Medical Center revealed the medical center could save $116,000 per year by implementing specific energy-conserving measures. To off-set the costs of the recommended updates, Winneshiek Medical Center applied for and was awarded a State Energy Program (SEP) grant in the amount of $209,912. Dave Jordahl, the chief operating officer at Winneshiek Medical Center says, "Like many rural hospitals in the state, Winneshiek Medical Center has aging utility infrastructure, which directly affects our energy consumption and our ability to be energy efficient. Although there was an initial cost, we are confident the energy savings will more than cover project costs over time, and the SEP award significantly improved our ability to implement the needed changes."
Although funding the remaining costs of the energy project – approximately $700,000 - Winneshiek Medical Center expects a payback within the next five to six years. Jordahl says, "Due to our improvements, we expect $53,000 in rebates from Alliant Energy."
Energy improvements make sense from a facilities standpoint, but it is the everyday patient experience that drives continued innovation. Nick Schwartzhoff, the director of engineering and maintenance at Winneshiek Medical Center says, "Our equipment was at the end of its useful life – the chillers were about 25 years old and the air handlers were reaching 40 years old. We couldn't adjust temperature settings according to patient – and staff – preference. With the new equipment and updated technology, we can meet the comfort needs of the people here every day."
Schwartzhoff explains additional benefits of the new system: "The new air handlers are programmed to set back according to the needs of a specific area. For example, during daytime hours the surgical suite needs 25 air exchanges per hour. Since surgeries are not scheduled through the overnight, there is no need to have that many air exchanges – we can reduce the number by half. With the old system, programmed set-backs were not possible; with the new system, we save energy every night."
Winneshiek Medical Center is getting a taste of future savings as the seasons begin to change and the project nears completion. "We are already experiencing monthly savings," says Schwartzhoff. "We plan to compare past usage with the new monthly readings; I expect we will begin to realize the value of the improvements within a year's time, and notice continued energy efficiencies for years to come."