October 19, 2023
In October 2022, Boston Medical Center (BMC) opened the new Brockton Behavioral Health Center (BBHC), an inpatient psychiatric facility that is also a net-zero deep energy retrofit building, believed to be the first healthcare facility of its kind in the United States. On September 28th, 2023, A Better City’s Energy & Environment Unit attended the Green Ribbon Commission (GRCx) tour of the new facility, led by Bob Biggio and David Maffeo of BMC, and hosted by the Green Ribbon Commission’s Healthcare Working Group (staffed by Healthcare Without Harm).
How BMC Achieved a Deep Energy Retrofit in a Healthcare Facility
Boston Medical Center has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and has currently accomplished about 94% of that goal. The 59,700SF Brockton facility, which was previously a closed nursing home in need of considerable structural upgrades and a deep energy retrofit, was at risk of being torn down due to its damaged condition. Recognizing the opportunity to expand BMC patient access to care in a high-need community like Brockton, BMC’s Senior Vice President, Chief of Sustainability, and Real Estate Officer Bob Biggio, and President and CEO at the time, Kate Walsh, sought to buy the building, closing on the property in May 2021. Thanks to a generous donor that tied their donation to the delivery of a fully net-zero building, the BMC team targeted geothermal, rooftop solar, and parking lot solar canopies, in addition to an onsite battery storage system for energy reliability and resilience. The geothermal system is comprised of 88 wells at a depth of 500 feet, with a total of 14 miles of underground piping. The building will be fully net-zero once the remaining parking lot solar canopies are completed, and the only fossil fuel present on site is the diesel backup generator required by law for healthcare facilities. In addition to decarbonizing the building’s energy supply, the building envelope was critical to achieving net-zero. The retrofit cost was approximately $550/square foot (estimated to cost $300-400 more if located in downtown Boston), and there are considerable savings in embodied carbon (approximately 1,000,000+ kg of carbon equivalent saved from landfill) thanks to BMC’s choice to retrofit rather than demolish and construct a new building on site. The building is already outperforming its energy modeling estimates.
Sustainability at the Center of Cost-Savings and Healthcare Access
As Bob Biggio stated at the GRCx tour in September, “access is the true north of Boston Medical Center’s work.” The opening of the BBHC comes at a critical time, when communities like Brockton are facing a shortage of behavioral health facilities, with no options for inpatient care for mental health and other behavioral health patients. According to the GRCx presentation, as of June 2022, Region 5 (South Shore/Brockton) had the third highest peak in the state for patients waiting in Emergency Departments for inpatient behavioral health admissions. Thanks to significant energy savings achieved by BMC’s leadership in sustainability and low-carbon healthcare facilities, BMC was able to dedicate $153M to the retrofit of the Brockton facility. In addition to energy cost savings and the private net-zero donation referenced above, BMC also leveraged MassHealth’s incentive program, with $12M in state funding approved by the MA State Legislature to the project. As of October 2023, the BBHC will add 56 acute inpatient psychiatric beds for patients 16 years or older with mental health needs, and 26 clinical stabilization services beds for patients 18 years or older in need of substance use treatment, with potential for expansion in the future. As former BMC President and CEO, Kate Walsh, said, “This facility is designed to address the co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder challenges our patients experience through a specialized care model. This new resource would not have been possible without the strong support of our partners in government, the City of Brockton, and the provider community. For patients and their families, this center will provide hope, and begin a new journey toward health and recovery.” The BBHC will play an important role in increasing the quality of community access to behavioral healthcare, while also providing a key example of deep energy retrofit resulting in a net-zero healthcare building.