“One thing we’ve done differently from many hospitals [is] when it comes time to add a wing or plan a renovation, we already know what the impact will be.”

I’d like to say we were brilliant and creative, but we were at the right place at the right time. I’ve been [at Southern Illinois Healthcare] for a long time—38 years, which I know is unheard of these days. In the late ’70s we had expansion plans at Memorial Hospital in Carbondale. Prior to the expansion we did an engineering study with a great firm in St. Louis, McClure Engineering, to look at developing a centralized heating-and-cooling system. About the same time, the federal government had a grant program for schools and hospitals to help pay for actual improvements in energy systems.

With the study already done, we were a step ahead, and the grant paid for 50 percent of the improvements. It set the stage. We installed the core of a central chiller plant that allowed us to centralize what had previously been a fragmented system. [It meant] a failure of individual equipment didn’t negatively impact the hospital operation.

There were only two hospitals in Illinois that received grants, so we received some good publicity. The success of that program created interest from the C-level. It became part of the business of our organization to save energy with support from senior management.

Tom Stewart has spent his entire professional career at Southern Illinois Healthcare, where he is currently the corporate director of facilities. He was key in earning the three-hospital health-care system national recognition for energy efficiency and bottom-line gains that cemented the organization’s reputation as one of the first hospital systems to show how an efficient physical plant contributes to improved patient care. Tom is also a cofounder of the Southern Illinois Chapter for Healthcare Engineering and is a regular speaker at health-care industry conferences.

Like a lot of hospitals, we constantly have renovation work in progress, but we’ve developed and maintained a mechanical and electrical master plan that works in parallel with the architectural master plan—that’s one thing we’ve done differently from many hospitals. When it comes time to add a wing or plan a renovation, we already know what the impact will be on the air-conditioning and heating capacity or the emergency power system.

In the mid-’80s we installed a heat-recovery system that reduced gas consumption by 40 percent. After that the Energy Star program for health-care facilities became available, and we decided to participate. As a result of our efforts, we were among the first three hospitals in the country to receive the Energy Star label.

If you have a building you think is already efficient, there may be potential for even more gains. Recently, we’ve been retro-commissioning our buildings to make sure everything is operating as it should. Our local utility has a program to share in the cost of this engineering study and to help pay for upgrades. We anticipate we can reduce energy consumption by 8 to 10 percent at each of our three hospitals, and if we save a dollar in energy, that’s a dollar we add to the bottom line.

Our maintenance staff does rounding with patients every day; they stop by rooms, greet the patients, and make sure everything is working correctly. [They] also make sure the lights are not left on in unoccupied areas and oxygen or vacuum regulators are not leaking, which all use energy.

I’ve worked at this for 38 years and due to the size of our facilities, I’ve had the opportunity to gain experience in a lot of different areas. In the summer of 2011, I received the Crystal Eagle Award from the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. It’s a lifetime achievement award and quite a humbling experience and quite an honor.