The perfect storm is forming for a rising wave of Green medical offices in Cincinnati.
Doctors, dentists and other medical practitioners who turn to Green offices for patient treatment will improve employee and patient relationships, preserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, and save on operating expenses, say healthcare experts in the greater Cincinnati area.
Green medical offices are an extension of our nation’s growing commitment to lead healthier lives, save the environment, and provide a positive environmental legacy for our children. They also provide views of nature and access to natural sunlight, which improve employee health and well-being, and diminish patient anxiety to promote healing.
National studies indicate that eliminating volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in carpet, wall coverings and paints and tiles improves both patient and employee health. And asthma attacks in children, for example, which are the nation’s leading cause of emergency room visits, can be reduced or prevented by eliminating chemicals in air filtration systems.
Dr. J.T. Carson, an internal medicine specialist in West Chester, Ohio, works with patients with compromised immune systems on a regular basis. A sign in his reception area asks patients not to wear perfumes or deodorants for the health of patients with chemical sensitivities. He recommends Green medical office space for all health professionals, especially ones just starting their practices.
He learned about the importance of a green office the hard way.
“Fifteen years ago we acquired new carpeting in our office and it took three years to get the volatile organic compounds out of the air,” he said. “At first we couldn’t understand why the patient rooms had a horrible smell in them. Finally, a water inspector spent a lot of time with us and determined that chlorine gas coming out of our water faucet mixed with the VOCs– toluene and benzene in the carpet– to create the smell.
“Patients can be nervous when seeing a doctor or dentist,” he said. “An environmentally-friendly office makes a huge difference in reducing patient anxiety. The effects may be subliminal—natural sunlight or fresh air coming in, an outside view, or an aquarium in the office—but they all enhance the doctor-patient relationship and help create trust. An environmentally-friendly office will save you money in the long term, and I would recommend one.”
Victor DiPilla, vice president of administration for Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, is a strong supporter of sustainable medical building. He chose a LEED-certified medical office space in which to open the new Christ Hospital Imaging Center at Neyer Properties’ Red Bank Crossing II office complex.
Christ Hospital in Cincinnati began embracing sustainable building and operations practices about four years ago. Since then, utilities costs have been shaved by $1.5 to 2 million– 15 to 20 percent. Utility costs were reduced by improving electrical and steam heating systems, eliminating paints and carpets containing VOCs, changing out light bulbs, installing waterless urinals and a drip irrigation system, as well as implementing recycling programs, said Rick Perkinson, director of facilities and maintenance at Christ Hospital.
The hospital is currently building a rooftop garden at its downtown location and applying for LEED Silver achievement for its interior space at the Christ Hospital Imaging Center at Red Bank Crossing II in Madisonville through the U.S. Green Building Council. It is currently one of only three hospitals in the nation to have received the Energy Star designation for its incorporation of green, sustainable measures for five years.
Even so, going green alone won’t cure ever-rising healthcare utility and building maintenance costs. The 4,000-employee hospital expects to spend $5.2 million next year on utilities, said DiPilla. He sees new hospitals in the Cincinnati area such as the Atrium in Middletown, West Chester Medical Center, and Children’s Hospital in Liberty Township embracing sustainable building initiatives as well— not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because sustainable building increases building efficiency while reducing energy and utility costs.
He also said he sees a corresponding “trickle-down effect” for individual medical practitioners embracing Green, sustainable building methods into their private-practice offices near those hospitals.
“Studies have shown that patient access to natural daylight reduces anxiety and blood pressure,” he said, “which will improve general patient health. I know being in a green facility has improved my morale, and I think as people become more educated about it, they will explore getting involved.”
Cindy Petrey, practice manager at Hyde Park Medical Associates, said the practice’s four internists moved to its new Green medical office space at Keystone Parke in Cincinnati in May, 2008. Keystone Parke, developed by Neyer Properties, is the tri-state’s first Green office campus.
Hyde Park Medical’s Green features include a heating and air-conditioning system which utilizes a rooftop Energy Recovery Wheel to bring fresh air into the office while reusing and recycling stale air; high-efficiency windows; and low-flow water fixtures and a landscape irrigation system that saves 50 percent of annual water use. There are no VOCs in paints, sealants or carpeting.
“Our patients think our Green office is wonderful,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to work in such a beautiful building and know that we are doing our part to protect the environment.”
Cincinnati’s Green medical office market is in its infancy, said Neyer Properties president Dan Neyer, primarily because Green, sustainable commercial building is currently more ubiquitous on the East and West coasts than in the Midwest and tri-state.
That may soon change, however. Medical practitioners interested in improved doctor-patient relationships, deferring utility use and saving the planet are calling a ‘Code Green’ when it comes to sustainably-built medical offices. The cost to build a LEED Certified or LEED Silver medical office is only about one to two percent higher than building an office using traditional construction methods.
“People are always concerned about the perceived cost to go Green, but in our experience, a LEED Certified or Silver building will take less than a year to pay back any additional costs relative to certification,” said Jeff Chamot, development project manager and LEED AP at Neyer Properties. “This is a small upfront price to pay for an office where utility use and bills will be 25 percent–or even more– less expensive each year than in traditionally-built buildings.
“Achieving this level of payback does require a holistic approach, however,” he added. “Designing the project sustainably from day one, having the right team in place as far as architects, engineers and contractors, and knowing the LEED certification system well are all important. If you take a project that has already been designed and re-design it for LEED-certification, it will inevitably cost more than one to two percent.”
Construction and design firms and developers like Neyer Properties which engage in Green, sustainable building use the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a best practices rating system developed in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC is now developing a healthcare rating system for the medical industry.
Tenets of the new healthcare rating system will include design elements such as daylighting and views of nature; using innovative technology to reduce energy and water use; reducing hazardous chemicals in building and decorative materials; and implementing Green operations, such as using Green cleaning products and landscaping protocols, according to the Green Guide for Health Care, a best practices guide for healthy and sustainable building design, construction, and operation for the health care industry.
When Dan Neyer and his staff investigated sustainable building three years ago, they were drawn to its earth-friendly, feel-good benefits. What convinced him to commit to Green, sustainable office building was crunching the actual numbers. Since then his company has evolved into the region’s leading Green office development company, and Neyer predicts that within a few years, all new office construction will be Green.
“We found that we’d hit on the best of two worlds,” said Neyer. “Not only could we save energy and natural resources, and feel good about our contribution to sustainable living, but we could save our tenants money, too. That’s something everyone can relate to.”
Editor’s Note: Neyer Properties is a full-service commercial real estate developer providing land acquisition and development, financing, real estate planning and consulting, architectural and engineering design, construction and leasing. The company moved into its new headquarters at Keystone Parke, the first building of a $100 million, four-building complex in June, 2008. Keystone Parke uses up to 30 percent less energy and provides a 50 percent savings in water use over traditionally-built office buildings. At Keystone Park, Neyer Properties achieved LEED Gold for its interior office, and LEED Silver for its core and shell. It’s the first Green office campus in the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.