Midwest Energy News interviews Dr. Jeff Thompson of Gundersen Health System. Dr. Thompson, who was a guest speaker at RENEW’s 2013 Policy Summit calls attention to the need to improve environmental health and sustainability in the healthcare sector.


 By Bob Herman

Midwest Energy News: The White House event honored several diverse voices within healthcare sustainability. What were you able to learn from it?

Thompson: I was amazed by some of the stories that people had accomplished. Kizzy Charles-Guzman,
the young woman who is responsible for sustainability efforts in New
York City, came up to me and said, “It’s so amazing what you’ve done and
how close you are to your goals.” And I said, “Kizzy, I’m responsible
for a number of rural counties that have a population equal to one-tenth
of one of your boroughs!”

Even though we have accomplished a lot, I still learn from individuals like her. And I also enjoy working with Gary
and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative because of his ability to
encapsulate what the big picture is and where [healthcare] needs to go.
It is a great, free program for all hospitals that can give any
organization a starting point.

Gundersen’s plan to be energy independent in 2014 is one of
the most unique among U.S. hospitals and health systems. Can you give
some examples of how Gundersen is trying to reach this goal, and is it
saving your organization money along the way?

The first example I always use — because everyone worries it’s going
to take a huge amount of money — is conservation. Our first investment
was in conservation. I recommend all CEOs to go for this. In the first
year and a half, we spent $2 million. That’s a lot of money, but every
year thereafter, we’ve saved $1.2 million in energy expenditures related
to that activity. Right now, I don’t know anything in the organization
that can get that rate of return.

When you say “conservation,” what did you and Gundersen focus on specifically?

We started with an energy audit. We looked around all the places
where we use energy — lights, motors, pumps, all the non-sexy things
people don’t think about when it comes to energy issues. For example,
there was a five-year-old, six-story outpatient building. It is very
busy during the days, but nobody is there at nights, weekends and
holidays. Its exhaust fans, though, were set to run 24/7/365. So we just
switched that to run only when people were in the building. We saved
$19,000 right there.