Back in the 1950s, most hospitals were eerie places: Tiled walls, dimly lit hallways, gruff personnel. It would be tough to find such an old-style, stark facility in this country today.
But even among the modern ones, some stand out because they’re built under sustainability principles, which includes the whole spectrum of human well-being.
“Before the patients can get healthy, the hospital needs to be healthy,” said Rudy Lonergan, Director of Facilities Development of Northeast Georgia Health System.
As a result, Northeast Georgia Medical Center at Braselton promises to be a facility whose features stand out even in worldwide comparison.
“Adopting a ‘lean’ philosophy was first,” said Lonergan, “with the greatest energy efficiency possible. Heating and air are provided through geothermal systems. Hospitals are some of the highest users of energy, and this will keep costs in check.” Another major concern was water. The park landscape around the facility uses reclaimed “purple water” instead of drinking water from the tap. Parking lots with smart drains send water to the plants instead of the nearest creek.
A pleasant environment around the hospital is beneficial for the well-being of the patients, but the development team went several steps further.
“There’s a ‘red list’ of building materials that we avoided using in construction,” Lonergan explained.
One example on the red list, which is maintained by the EPA and other agencies, is formaldehyde. It’s an ingredient in many carpet products, but not the ones chosen as floor coverings for NGMC Braselton.
Earth-friendly systems and materials, particularly energy-efficient ones, usually cost more up front but over the years, the savings greatly outweigh the initial expense. In this case, $2 million invested from the start in items like LED lighting and geothermal climate control are estimated to save $15 million within the next 30 years.
With all these innovations, it’s not surprising that the project is pursuing one of the highest standards of LEED certification for efficiency and environmental friendliness. It has a chance to be the first hospital in the nation, or at least among the top ones, to earn “LEED Gold” status for health care.
“But the No. 1 priority is excellent patient care,” said Lonergan, pointing out brand new designs that make the work of doctors and nurses more efficient, and rooms more comfortable than ever. Braselton will see the opening of this whole new world of health care in the spring of 2015.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.