Going green brings national recognition for FVAMC employee - Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System
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Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System

 

Going green brings national recognition for FVAMC employee

April 20, 2011

A Fayetteville VAMC employee is receiving national recognition for her efforts in helping a 70-year-old building "go green."

Shelley Reeder, the medical center's Green Environmental Management Systems (GEMS) coordinator, has been selected to receive the 2011 VA Sustainability Achievement Award.  The award provides Department-level recognition to VA employees and facilities who have demonstrated outstanding environmental stewardship and whose efforts have resulted in significant contributions to the environment.  She has been invited to Washington, D.C., in May to accept the award.

Reeder has been with the Fayetteville VAMC for seven years, coming to Fayetteville from the Charleston, S.C., Naval Hospital where she worked as an industrial hygienist for 18 years.  Starting here in the same position, she moved into the GEMS coordinator position five years ago when VA created environmental coordinator positions at each medical center.  Reeder said she was already working with the environmental program as an industrial hygienist, so the move was a natural one.

"In IH, I worked with all the occupational health hazards in the workplace – noise, chemicals, radiation and lead exposure among others," Reeder said.  "We worked (in IH) to minimize exposure to hazards in the workplace.  We were looking out for people, and now we're looking out for the environment."

She received the award for her part in developing and leading a project that cleaned about 400 fan coil units around the facility and replaced outdated air filter systems with modern antimicrobial filters.  The project not only increased the air quality in the hospital, but also decreased energy consumption, saving the VA about $154,000 a year.

Fan coils are wall mounted heating and air conditioning units that were originally installed in the 1960s, Reeder said.  Facility upgrades and additions since have moved that function to centralized air handling units, but the older systems still must be used and maintained.

Reeder started a pilot project in December 2009 with 10 fan coil units.  When the results proved the project had merit, the GEMS committee approved expanding the project throughout the hospital.  In less than two weeks, the project was completed at a cost of $81,000, a cost that was repaid in energy savings alone in the first five to seven months.

The project has also helped reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by medical center operations by 1,920 tons, thus reducing the hospital's carbon footprint, Reeder explained.

There were other benefits to the project as well.  Air temperatures coming from individual fan coil units were as much as 26 percent hotter or colder than before the project.  Installing high efficiency antimicrobial filters also reduced particulates in patient care areas by as much as 90 percent, helping eliminate odors creating a more pleasant and safer environment for both patients and staff members.

As part of the initial investment, the Fayetteville VAMC also received a cleaning machine that is now used by two staff members who were trained by the original contractor, Reeder said.  Because the newer system is more efficient, that cleaning now only needs to be done once a year.

Reeder said the difference in the hospital after the project was completed was noticeable.

"We had a lot of positive feedback from people who said they could tell the difference," Reeder said.  "We got emails from people saying the air smelled cleaner and their eyes weren't itchy anymore.  They were ecstatic that we were doing something with the fan coil units."

One requirement for the award was that the projected could be duplicated at other facilities, Reeder said.  She briefed the Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network GEMS coordinators about the success at Fayetteville, and now the Salisbury, N.C., VAMC is conducting a fan coil cleaning project of their own.

Reeder, who said she was surprised but excited when she learned about the award, said the project had other less tangible benefits.

"The Veterans see us taking steps to green our facility," Reeder said.  "Even though it's old, there are still things we can do."

Reeder isn't sitting still, though.  She said there were several other energy projects underway, including a project to wrap steam pipes in the facility in thermal blankets to reduce heat loss through the pipe walls over the length of the pipe run.

"People think of me as the recycling person, but there's so much more here than that," Reeder said. 

Fayetteville VAMC Director Elizabeth Goolsby personally congratulated Reeder for her leadership in the project.

"We do have an older facility, but with people like Shelley here looking for ways to make it more efficient, we'll be able to continue providing quality health care to our Nation's heroes for many years to come," Goolsby said.  "This award is well deserved."