News in Green Healthcare

Of all the building types that should pursue sustainable design and operations, health care facilities make the most sense, don’t they? From hospitals with round the clock operations to medical offices where patients share their deepest health issues with their physicians, green health care makes absolute sense.

Fortunately, USGBC has gotten around to recognizing not only the importance of these unique building types but also how health care facilities are far and away different from other types of commercial buildings. This is demonstrated, of course, by the recently balloted and approved LEED for Health Care, which drew overwhelming support in November 2010 (87% approval). The new system will roll out in spring 2011, finally catching up to the Green Guide for Healthcare (GGHC), originally released in 2004. GGHC gives a non-LEED option for healthcare facilities, but truth be told, is based so heavily on LEED (in a collaboration with USGBC, actually references specific credits in LEED NC and EBOM) that in the past you could likely have earned both certifications simultaneously. What the GGHC did though, was make the credits specific to the needs of health care, which provided design teams, owners, and operators much clearer guidance on what made sense in their realm.

The new LEED for Health Care brings the LEED system more in line with the realities of the demands and special needs associated with health care. Many credits remain the exact same. A good number of credits are the same but improved to reflect the 24 hour operations required in hospitals (for example, credits related to FTE calculations simplified to allow FTE to be measured at peak staff level, rather than trying to address different staffing for different shifts).

Roughly 18 new credits were added to the program, including some new prerequisites. New pre-reqs include a requirement that a Phase 1 ESA be performed (as required under LEED for Schools), minimization of potable water for medical equipment cooling (in addition to the standard building water use reduction), required mercury reduction in lighting (and proper disposal plan for bulbs), hazardous material removal or encapsulation (for renovations only), and finally a new Innovation and Design prerequisite requiring integrated project planning and design – a requirement that truly pushes for a robust, cross-functional team to address the green design issues and challenges for each project.

Credits have been added that really seem to make sense. For example, new site credits are available for connection to the natural world (giving patients access to the exterior and places of respite). Water use reduction points have been added that address water use specific to medical equipment, as well as cooling towers and food waste processors. On the materials side, additional credits have been added to further reduce mercury, as well as lead, cadmium, and copper. Indoor environmental quality credits stayed relatively consistent with only the addition of an acoustical credit to promote a less disruptive environment, and a more comprehensive low emitting materials credit that covers not only interior products but also exterior applied products.

As with all LEED products, there are likely to be those of criticize the system or point out flaws, and I’m sure they all have valid arguments. But just looking through the rating system, LEED for Health Care is a vast improvement over trying to apply LEED NC to a health care facility. And that’s going ot benefit a whole lot of people, from the staff to the patients.