Dealing with drought

Posted on 5 June 2017

Mediclinic hospitals in the Northern Cape demonstrate how a hospital can address water shortages. All it takes is foresight, planning and measurement.

Leading the way
Mediclinic Southern Africa is actively involved with the South African Federation of Hospital Engineering (SAFHE), promoting the goals and objectives of the federation to ensure sustainability of hospital engineering in the healthcare industry in South Africa.

‘Mediclinic Southern Africa has given various presentations to members meeting about the current water crisis in Southern Africa, especially, currently in the Western Cape,’ says Francois Bester, Mediclinic’s Manager of Environmental Management Systems. Bester is also the SAFHE President and one of four Mediclinic employees to hold national council positions at SAFHE. ‘In recognition of the critical role water plays in the effective functioning of any hospital, Mediclinic recategorised its importance, raising it from ‘strategic’ to ‘life support’ level. Without water, a hospital cannot function,’ says Bester.

The challenge
‘Problems arise when pipes burst or there’s a malfunction in the municipality’s infrastructure,’ says Albert Kasselman, Technical Manager at Mediclinic Gariep and Mediclinic Kimberley. ‘But we monitor the situation closely, and the moment there’s a problem, we make informed decisions as to where to temporarily reduce consumption, and where to make water the priority. We also have boreholes and test those regularly to ensure it’s suitable for human use.

‘Because of the measures we’ve put in place, we’ve already survived a period of four days when we had no outside water coming in – and both our hospitals in Kimberley remained in 100% working order without any detriment to infection control or any water-related inconvenience to patients,’ he says.

Measurement is crucial
‘It is almost impossible to effectively manage a critical resource like water without proper measurement,’ says Kasselman. ‘We’re currently using a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor everything on the premises, including water consumption and energy. It’s a high-level live system that monitors our scarce resource usage 24/7,’ says Kasselman. ‘As a result, we know exactly when the water pressure drops, and when it does, our variable-speed pumps kick in to regulate the pressure. We can identify a leak within seconds and take measures to fix it straight away.’

The system also measures every big appliance in the hospital. Should consumption escalate in the kitchen, for example, an email is generated to alert Kasselman as well as the kitchen manager. A screen in the kitchen allows staff to see their exact real-time consumption, which encourages them to save water and energy. ‘What’s more, we’re closely monitoring our laundry and utilising the washing machines as close to maximum capacity as possible,’ says Kasselman.

Simple solutions
The hospital is installing a grey-water system to recycle used water. ‘We already re-circulate the water from our autoclave machines used to sterilise medical equipment and instruments,’ says Kasselman.

Mediclinic Gariep is a new hospital, so water and energy conservation were the guiding principles in its design and construction, and that has helped to save water from the onset. ‘It goes without saying that our gardens are full of water-wise plants,’ Kasselman says. ‘We’re all hoping the current drought will lift and that there’ll be more than enough water for everyone again, but our careful monitoring and conservation systems will see us through until then.’

Published in Innovation