Striving for a Health Clinic That Does No Harm to the Earth

Striving for a Health Clinic That Does No Harm to the Earth

BY EDIE LAU
FOR THE KITSAP SUN
Monday, January 28, 2008

BREMERTON

Over nearly 20 years as a chiropractor, Meg Simans' approach to healing has evolved to the point that it no longer fits inside the modest, low-slung building that houses her practice on NE Riddell Road in Bremerton.

Simans' expanding view of health care needs more space. Come spring, it will have that space, complete with a soaring cathedral ceiling and outdoor light pouring through arched windows and skylights.

A 5,000-square-foot building under construction behind her existing office represents the doctor's realization that promoting health is more than giving patients nicely aligned spines — it involves supporting healthy surroundings, too.

"We look at health not only as the absence of symptoms but by the presence of a sense of well-being," said Simans, a tall, lean figure with blue eyes that pierce.

Beyond being aesthetically lovely, the new office is "green," meaning it is constructed and outfitted with materials, methods and features friendly to the environment. Paints and adhesives have no polluting volatile organic chemicals, the owners say. Flooring comes from fast-growing bamboo and other natural or recycled materials. Rooftop solar panels will generate the building's electricity. The sun's energy will be captured to heat water, as well.

In going green, Simans and her business partner and husband, Ron Simans, are helping to propel a trend that construction and architectural experts say is on the verge of becoming mainstream.

"The industry is saturated with the green-building philosophy," said Douglas Coover, director of campus design and construction at Harrison Medical Center, where construction projects increasingly follow green-building guidelines.

"It's more than just rhetoric," agreed Bill Biggs, executive director of administrative services at Group Health, citing the explosion of building products and materials that are made of non-toxic, recycled or otherwise sustainably manufactured ingredients. "There were none just a few years ago. Today, there are all kinds of choices," Biggs said.

While the trend runs throughout the building industry, the push toward green especially resonates with health care organizations, Biggs said. "People get into health care to heal people, and if you don't pay attention to the air we breathe and the environment in which we live, you're not taking the whole challenge on," he said.

At the same time, the health care industry faces special impediments to greening its properties. Building green offices is one thing; building green clinics and hospitals is something else, Biggs and Coover said.

"The products that have to be used in a health-care environment have got a lot of (regulatory) requirements, so there are fewer options," Biggs said.

Take carpeting. For infection-control purposes, medical buildings require carpets have particular fabrics, weave and backing that make thorough cleanup possible, Coover said. "When you have body fluids hitting the floor, you don't want them saturating the carpet," he explained.

The right kind of carpet "may or may not be green," Coover said. "Obviously, our highest priority is to comply with health-care

regulations and safety."

A chiropractic office has less complicated considerations, but the Simans' found they had to make compromises here and there. For example, Ron Simans said the most environmentally friendly insulation he found — denim cotton batting — would have cost $90,000, versus $15,000 for the formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation they went with. On top of the huge price difference, Simans said, his contractor warned that the heavier cotton insulation eventually would cause the ceiling to sag.

Overall, Ron Simans said, going green added 10-15 percent to the cost of the $1.2 million building, but the couple felt so strongly about it that they put some personal funds into the project.

Part of the investment they expect to pay off fairly quickly. The 4-kilowatt solar generating system, for example, cost $25,000, Simans said. But with a 30 percent commercial tax credit allowed in the first year followed by ongoing utility bill savings, he figures the system will pay for itself in 10 years.

Other green features coming deal with water conservation and purity.

Outside, the Simans' envision a rain garden and bioswales to absorb and filter storm runoff. Inside, they're installing dual flush toilets. "You use the half-flush button for No. 1, and use the full-flush for No. 2," Ron Simans explained, tickled. "In a chiropractic office where most times it's No. 1, that's hundreds of gallons (saved)."

The building will incorporate enough eco-friendly features to earn three stars — the top rating — from the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County Built Green program. (The program is similar in concept to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.)

Once finished this spring, the building will have space enough for not only Meg Simans and her staff but another three chiropractors, six massage therapists (with differing shifts), an acupuncturist, a naturopathic doctor, an exercise rehabilitator and their staffs. One room is designated for yoga and Pilates classes that will be open to the public. So, too, will be a store that sells supplements, yoga mats, cervical pillows, soap and the like.

Given its design and variety of uses, the Simans' don't consider the building a doctor's office so much as a "lifestyle center."