Health Matters Blog

Idle Thoughts on Sustainability

By Rob Prohaska

Tomorrow’s Touch-a-Truck event is always great fun for young kids who like to climb inside, and all over, construction rigs, fire trucks, ambulances or other big, noisy vehicles. While your son or daughter is ooh-ing and ah-ing over the backhoes and tree-trimmers, take a minute and walk over to the Emergency Department side lot. You’ll see a couple of metal pillars that look like futuristic gas-pumps, which were installed last week. But instead of engine fuel these kiosks provide a power source for an emergency vehicle’s battery-operated systems.

Truck stops provide anti-idling stations for tractor trailer drivers so when they have to park overnight and sleep, they can control the cab temperature and operate electrical components without burning diesel fuel. The driver, or his employer, saves on fuel costs and engine maintenance while reducing toxic emissions and noise pollution. Thanks to an EPA grant administered by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, BMH is going to be the first hospital in the country to provide this anti-idling technology for ambulances.

The volume of patient visits in BMH’s emergency department allows the kiosk manufacturer, Airedock, to measure effectiveness before implementing at larger hospitals across the U.S. The timing was good for our emergency department as well, which at 13,000 annual visits has outgrown its current facility. We were able to incorporate the placement of the kiosks into the existing plans for expansion and, like the construction of the Richards Building a couple years ago, we’re seeing how we can be more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly at the start of the project.

An ambulance spends an average of 20 minutes docked at the Emergency Department while EMTs admit a patient they’ve transported. During that time its imperative to maintain a constant temperature to ensure equipment is operational and medicines are safely stored. But keeping the engine running generates fumes and odors that get into the facility’s ventilation system. Exterior doors are constantly opening and closing at a hospital, bringing in a lot of outside air. Anytime you have idling, depending on which way the wind blows, people will get affected by it. Removing these noxious gases is the big benefit for us. The engine noise from an ambulance is minimal compared to a large truck, and an ambulance burns about two-thirds less fuel per hour than an 18-wheeler. But any emissions from idling engines are a detriment.

The outside air brought in through entranceways also makes temperature control a challenge. The hospital’s number one energy consumer is our heating and air-conditioning. system The Richards Building project allowed us to install an energy wheel that facilitates air exchange, pre-cooling outside air in the summer and pre-heating it in the winter. It’s a great energy-saver.

We’re also planning to install more LED lighting when we renovate the emergency department, both in the new entranceways as well as in the parking lots. We’ve been using LEDs in the employee parking lot we began leasing last year. They offer bright, consistent illumination, which is good for dark parking lots, and save on maintenance as well as energy consumption. There was no existing power source at the lot’s location, so rather than paying to install a new meter and wiring we purchased solar collectors. They are working great and we expect to use them at other parts of the campus to reduce our electricity use.

The hospital had a formal green task force for a while, but when you’re part of a community like Brattleboro you don’t always need a group to kick it into gear. It seems like someone is always working on a small-scale project. Our aluminum recycling station has become a drop-off resource for the public, with the redemption proceeds funding a local playground. Jamie Baribeau, our director of nutrition services, is investigating ways food waste can provide compost to individuals. He also wants to start a small herb garden in a section of the Richards Building rooftop. A couple of weeks ago, we ceased delivery of bottled water. The water in our pipes gets double-filtered and uses UV in the cooling area to keep bacteria from growing. A lot of people say the water tastes more refreshing than the bottled water. We didn’t organize a committee, we just went and tackled it.

Every little effort helps with energy conversation and environmental preservation. In my house I’m not going to solve the energy crisis. But if I do small things, then the gal next to me does small things and then when the hospital does a few larger things, because of our scale, we all reduce our carbon footprint. Even with the Touch-a-Truck event, we were thinking about effectively using resources when we opted for 2,200 pounds of mulch for the play area instead of sand — our groundskeepers can re-use it for landscaping when the event is over.

Rob Prohaska is the Director of Plant Services at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.