Green Building Council focusing on benefits to patients, environment

The U.S. Green Building Council will soon launch the first-ever LEED rating system for health care that awards points not only for environmental benefits but also for efforts to improve human health.

Today, new health care buildings seeking green certification through LEED must qualify for platinum, gold, silver and other ratings against the credentials written for general construction. But according to officials who developed the health-specific, point-rating system, hospitals and other medical buildings operate in such a way that some of the credit qualifications aren’t reasonable.

“A lot of systems in health care have different needs – sanitization of medical tools. You have to take into account energy requirements that are more adapted to a 24-hour operation water-usage. The new standards also take into account the need to have health care facilities in rural areas,” said Deon Glaser, manager of LEED technical development.

A national manager for sustainable building design and research for Kaiser Permanente said the nonprofit didn’t apply for LEED certification for its green Vacaville hospital currently under construction because its efforts align more closely with increasing the health and safety of the people in the buildings in addition to the environment.

“All of our buildings would be considered green just based on their energy and water use compared to other hospitals, but really more important to Kaiser in our environmental efforts is preserving the health of the people in the building,” said Kaiser sustainable building design and research national manager Tom Cooper.

He said the Vacaville site, for example, was built with no vinyl flooring, which wouldn’t earn it points under the traditional LEED system but provides a huge public health benefit because of the level of toxins in the material and strain for employees walking on the surface all day.

According to the draft LEED-for-health-care system, builders could receive credit for these types of enhancements as well as others related to human health.

“The creators of this system really wanted a comprehensive approach to health. ... We wanted to focus on ways the building can help the patient,” Ms. Glaser said.

Considerations including acoustics control and access to views of natural areas are incorporated in the rating system, as well as designing courtyards and places for patients that are calming and promote health. Projects can also receive additional points for involving all parties in the building design, including doctors, nurses and others that would work in the building.

The building council recently completed the first round of comments on the draft health rating system after several years of development and a partnership with Green Guide for Health Care, which was created in 2002 and has already piloted a similar system.

The LEED health care committee is currently in the process of making revisions to the document before opening it up for another review sometime in the first quarter of next year. If no other revisions are needed, the draft will go to the committee for vote and launch once it receives approval. Ms. Glaser said they expect to complete the process in the second quarter of 2009.

Also new to all rating systems next year, projects can receive additional points for achieving credits listed as most vital to the local environment. A hospital in the desert, for example, would receive an extra point for prioritizing credits that save water.

Next year, the council will also transfer the certification review process to a third-party organization called the Green Building Certification Institute.