Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital, Lexington, Va.

Image courtesy of carilion clinic

While health care sustainability is a complex issue, leaders at Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital in Lexington, Va., are taking a simple but impactful approach to achieving environmental goals.

“When we do what’s right for our environment, we do what’s right for our patients,” says Dee Fix, facilities director at the 128,400-square-foot, 25-bed critical access hospital offering inpatient and outpatient care as well as outreach activities. “We are committed to minimizing our carbon footprint by increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste.”

Rockbridge Community Hospital is making rapid progress, which is reflected in its rising Environmental Protection Agency ENERGY STAR® score. Between 2017 and 2021, the facility’s score jumped from 77 to 84, which hospital leaders largely credit to capital investments in plant operations and a preventive maintenance program for equipment. In 2021, the hospital received the ENERGY STAR certification for superior energy performance. 

And Rockbridge Community Hospital’s dedication to sustainability earned another accolade: the 2022 Energy to Care Sustainability Champion Award from the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) of the American Hospital Association. The prestigious award recognizes facilities that demonstrate outstanding leadership in health care sustainability. 

Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital engineering and maintenance team members (from left) Dee Fix, Amy Gilliam, Cole Clark, Troy Hickman, Scott Humphries, Curtis Tyree and Jason Knick.

Image courtesy of Carilion Clinic

The hospital is one of seven owned and operated by Carilion Clinic, a not-for-profit health care organization based in Roanoke, Va., that serves approximately 1 million people.

“Carilion Rockbridge Community Hospital is leading the way through setting priorities such as energy, water and waste reduction efforts. They have also found creative ways of engaging employees,” says Kara Brooks, LEED AP BD+C, senior associate director of sustainability for ASHE.

Curtis Tyree, facilities maintenance mechanic, repairs facility lights.

Image courtesy of Carilion Clinic

While Rockbridge Community Hospital has a green team, all efforts are supported by Carilion’s systemwide sustainability program that includes an environmental stewardship council of senior leaders who provide guidance and oversight on sustainability initiatives. Workgroups focusing on specific sustainability issues (e.g., leaner energy, less waste and greening the operating room), fall under the council’s umbrella, and include staff from individual facilities who meet regularly. 

A systemwide sustainability champions committee is open to all staff. A sustainability department staffed by a director and coordinator work with individual facilities systemwide. 

Operations upgrades 

Most recent efficiency improvements at Rockbridge Community Hospital focused on upgrading outdated plant operations equipment, says Jason Knick, engineering and maintenance supervisor. “We upgraded to more energy-efficient chillers, boilers and a domestic hot water system, which has really helped reduce overall energy use,” Knick says. “We implemented a preventive maintenance program for the facility’s boilers and chillers that also increases energy savings.”

Facilities staff also caulked windows, weather-stripped doors and are working to upgrade all fluorescent lighting with LED bulbs, Knick says. “Our ultimate goal is to replace all lighting in- and outdoors with LED lighting,” he says. 

Troy Hickman, facilities maintenance mechanic, checks boiler operating parameters.

Image courtesy of Carilion Clinic

Along with cutting-edge energy, the hospital continues to slash greenhouse gas emissions each year. On average, its teams have maintained a 54 metric ton decrease in carbon dioxide emissions since 2009. The facility is also recycling cardboard and paper and properly managing and disposing of regulated medical waste, sharps and pharmaceutical waste.

The facility diligently tracks energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions in the ASHE Energy to Care Dashboard to gauge progress and set goals.

But at the end of the day, the people at Rockbridge Community Hospital can be credited for the hospital’s sustainability success, Fix says. Along with the “boots on the ground” facilities staff and front-line workers who carry out and follow up on sustainability projects, Fix credits success to strong involvement from Carilion leaders. “From senior management and all the way up throughout the system, our leaders are always looking for ways to lessen our carbon footprint,” Fix says. “They are always open to new ways we can save energy and our planet.”

Scott Humphries, maintenance electrician specialist, assists with quarterly maintenance of chillers.

Image courtesy of Carilion Clinic

Facility leaders also work to engage employees in environmental efforts, including posting “turn the lights off” signs in conference rooms and surveying employees on new sustainability ideas. As the movement to save the planet becomes more urgent, Fix says employees are becoming more aware of the role each person plays and are even asking about ways they can help.

“I have fielded questions from my employees about recycling things like batteries,” she says. “They don’t want to throw them in the trash. We are gradually raising awareness in the facility and employees are becoming more environmentally conscious in general.”

As sustainability gains momentum, Fix is hoping to recruit ambassadors throughout the facility to help on each floor. She doesn’t anticipate a problem. “I think we will easily find ambassadors who I envision will help to implement processes within the department,” Fix says. “They will be sustainability cheerleaders.”