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Monday, January 5, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Health care systems sign on to HHS sustainability initiative


By MaryBeth Matzek
Sustainability and health care aren't normally mentioned in the same breath, but a new initiative is looking to change that – and improve the care provided to patients. Late last year, representatives from 11 healthcare organizations – including two from Wisconsin – were invited to a White House summit on the topic.

La Crosse-based Gundersen Health and Appleton-based ThedaCare were in attendance to learn about the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative. The program is designed to develop tools and information to help health care facilities prepare for the impacts of climate change and increase their ability to provide continuity of care before, during and after extreme weather events.

The new guide looks at the best practices organizations can take to improve their climate readiness, says Paul Linzmeyer, ThedaCare's sustainability leader.

"By embracing these new guidelines, ThedaCare will be better prepared to care for patients and the community during any severe weather events as well as being prepared for the additional strain climate change is expected to put on our health care system through associated illnesses and the exacerbation of chronic conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases," he says.

Sustainability initiatives are nothing new for Gundersen, which was the first healthcare organization in the nation to commit to energy independence (that was back in 2008). To hit that goal – which it achieved this past October -- CEO Jeff Thompson, MD, says Gundersen focused on two main initiatives: reducing consumption by improving efficiency and producing cleaner energy.

Thompson is proud Gundersen is the first healthcare system in the country to attain energy independence.

"We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy," he says. "We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country. Gundersen has shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy and positively impact the environment."

Gunderson has a division, Envision, focused on sustainability and creates its own energy through a variety of resources including two manure biodigesters, two wind turbine sites and a geothermal heat system that provides heat and air conditioning to a hospital.

While ThedaCare's sustainability initiative is newer than Gundersen's, the organization plans for energy neutrality, zero waste, and closed loop water systems by 2025. It's also searching for sustainable, self-sufficient energy solutions that don't rely on the existing power grid, Linzmeyer says.

As for why healthcare providers should get involved in sustainability initiatives, Linzmeyer says it makes sense – especially since the healthcare industry makes up 20 percent of the nation's economy.

"Since ThedaCare serves as an anchor in its communities, we see an opportunity to lead discussions on climate change by showcasing the latest climate adaptation and resilience practices to local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community leaders," he says.

Déjà vu?

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn announced this week he now owns 7.7 percent of the Manitowoc Company and will push for the company to split its crane and food service businesses into two separate businesses. This the second time in recent years that Icahn has turned his focus to a Wisconsin-based company.

In 2012, Icahn launched a bid to buy Oshkosh Truck and shake up its leadership and strategy, including selling off JLG, which makes construction equipment. That endeavor, which included a proxy fight, ended after Icahn failed to get 25 percent of shareholders to back his plan.

It will be interesting to see if Manitowoc Company officials fight Icahn as hard as Oshkosh leaders did. In Manitowoc's case, Icahn isn't the first shareholder to bring up the idea to split the company in two. In early 2014, Relational Investors, an institutional investor based in San Diego and owns 8.5 percent of the company, said it would seek to split the company in two to increase the value of their shares.

Cheese factory expansion

It's no secret Wisconsin is the cheese capital of the United States and one of the state's cheese factories is getting bigger. Family-owned Baker Cheese Factory in eastern Fond du Lac County is spending $7 million to expand and modernize its factory. The project, which is expected to be complete by next fall, will create about 40 new jobs when complete.

As part of its expansion, Baker is building a new wastewater treatment facility that will allow the company to expand its whey operations. Whey is a popular food ingredient and demand for it continues to grow. In addition to whey, Baker Cheese manufactures 100 percent natural string cheese under its own label as well as for private labels.

Baker Cheese Factory will receive $800,000 in economic development tax credits over the next three years from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. depending on the number of total jobs created and retained.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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