Thirsty Calif. hos­pi­tals cur­tail wa­ter use

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Beth Kutscher

Cal­i­for­nia hos­pi­tals are re­duc­ing their nonessen­tial wa­ter use as their state en­ters its fourth con­sec­u­tive year of drought.

Health­care providers are ex­empt from many of the manda­tory wa­ter re­stric­tions, but the state’s largest health sys­tems say they have a num­ber of sus­tain­abil­ity ef­forts in place to re­duce their wa­ter and en­ergy use.

Hos­pi­tals are par­tic­u­larly wa­ter­in­ten­sive busi­nesses. Ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, large U.S. hos­pi­tals used about 133 bil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter in 2007. That’s an av­er­age of 145,000 gal­lons per bed, roughly the same as the an­nual con­sump­tion of a four-per­son house­hold.

Yet Cal­i­for­nia health- care lead­ers are not ready to share their con­tin­gency plans, in the event that drought is the new nor­mal. A Cal­i­for­nia Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion spokes­woman did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Com­mon provider con­ser­va­tion mea­sures in­clude in­stalling low-flow plumb­ing in re­strooms, pres­sure-wash­ing out­door com­mon ar­eas less of­ten and mod­i­fy­ing land­scap­ing to in­clude more drought-re­sis­tant green­ery.

“We look at cli­mate change as a health­care is­sue, and this is why we’ve made this com­mit­ment to re­new­able en­ergy,” said Ramé Hem­street, chief en­ergy of­fi­cer at Oak­land-based Kaiser Per­ma­nente.

Kaiser, with 38 hos­pi­tals in Cal­i­for­nia, Hawaii and Ore­gon, com­mit­ted in Fe­bru­ary to shift­ing 50% of its power needs to re­new­able en­ergy sources, at a cost of $35 mil­lion a year. “There’s an en­ergy-wa­ter nexus,” Hem­street said. “The more you can con­serve one, the more you im­pact the other.” Kaiser also has spent $15 mil­lion on wa­ter-re­duc­tion projects. This year the sys­tem cut its wa­ter use 10% from its 2013 base­line.

Stan­ford Health Care found that it used 35% of its wa­ter for bath­rooms, 28% for industrial pro­cesses such as med­i­cal vac­uum pumps, and 16% for pa­tient exam rooms where doc­tors wash their hands or use au­to­clave ster­il­iz­ers. Mov­ing to more sus­tain­able steam ster­il­iz­ers has helped Stan­ford save 10 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter a year; up­grad­ing its vac­uum pumps has saved an­other 2 mil­lion gal­lons.

The two-hos­pi­tal, Palo Alto-based sys­tem also has de­com­mis­sioned all but one of its dec­o­ra­tive out­door wa­ter fea­tures. The one that re­mains in use is part of its dis­as­ter emer­gency plan.

Em­ploy­ees have brought many ideas for re­duc­ing wa­ter use, said Krisanne Han­son, direc­tor of sus­tain­abil­ity at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter. “We’ve cam­paigned that if you see a leak, there’s one num­ber to call,” she said.

Sut­ter Health in Sacra­mento has con­sol­i­dated laun­dry ser­vices for its 25 hos­pi­tals into a sin­gle LEED-cer­ti­fied fa­cil­ity, sav­ing about 12 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter a year, a spokes­woman said.

In ad­di­tion, Sut­ter’s use of low-flow shower heads, faucets and toi­lets has helped re­duce wa­ter con­sump­tion 27% at its Solano Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Vallejo, 16% at its Davis Hos­pi­tal and 13% at its Amador Hos­pi­tal in Jack­son.

Both Stan­ford and Sut­ter are build­ing new Bay Area cam­puses that em­pha­size sus­tain­abil­ity. And in a cri­sis, many health sys­tems have their own wa­ter re­serves they can tap.

Still, no one in­ter­viewed for this story ex­pressed con­cern that the sit­u­a­tion would reach that cri­sis point. Desert coun­tries have suc­cess­fully taken mea­sures such as re­cy­cling waste­water and open­ing de­sali­na­tion plants, and there’s sig­nif­i­cant progress Cal­i­for­nia can make in those ar­eas.

“I have con­fi­dence that in the United States we’ll make sure that the taps don’t run dry,” Hem­street said. “It would be tremen­dous over­re­ac­tion that we have to worry about hos­pi­tals run­ning out of wa­ter.”

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