How Hospitals Can Save Water and Big Bucks Too

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , April 23, 2012

Even in areas like Washington state where water is plentiful, hospitals should be concerned about water quality and their role as stewards, Brannen says. "Hospitals have a unique obligation to address the chemicals and pharmaceuticals that they are inadvertently or sloppily putting into the water," she says. "And the burden on the publicly owned treatment waterworks to take out a toxic soup of chemicals and to anticipate what those chemicals are and to provide clean water is an expensive endeavor, so the cost of water is going up."

Glass says finding the right person for the job is critical.

"If you have the person coordinating the hospital who has the talent to investigate this kind of stuff, turn them loose," he says. "Incentivize them too. In our case, a lot of our ROI, we invested back into programs that saved more. It created momentum. Sometimes leaders are quick to take all of the savings and divert them to another use, and that discourages the person who found the savings. Come up with a reward system that encourages this."

Glass believes that water conservation programs will become more popular with hospitals as operating margins narrow, the cost of water inevitably increases, and leadership sees the almost guaranteed ROI through conservation.

"If you can have a long-term perspective, this is a predictable way of reducing costs without having to take significant risk. And it is pretty dependable—the returns you can measure, versus business strategies that might depend on recruiting that world-class surgeon to your campus who might leave after a year," he says. "All hospitals are in a mode of trying to respond to healthcare reform and declining reimbursements. This has the benefit of being good for the environment and also good for finances."

(Note: The American Hospital Association maintains a Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals that includes benchmarks and water-saving strategies.)

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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