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Fogarty critical to Island care facilities' efficiency efforts

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Vancouver Island Health Authority engineer works closely with Power Smart

Mike Fogarty was sure this article couldn't be about him.

"Not sure you have the right person here," the assistant chief engineer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) wrote back via email to the Power of Business, from his office in Victoria's Gorge Road Hospital.

You can add humility to the list of attributes that colleagues and contractors use to describe the health authority's 11-year-veteran. Attributes like "supportive", "hands-on", "cheerful and effective support of others trying to reduce energy use", "consistency" and "integrity" were just a few phrases that spilled out from one contractor who's worked alongside Fogarty long enough to know.

For many of his 11 years with VIHA, Fogarty has been working with BC Hydro contractors and advisors to implement Power Smart programs that help keep the five different long-term care facilities that he's responsible for running efficiently and comfortably.

"At the end of the day, it makes you feel good," says Fogarty. "All our sites are long-term care sites. That's who we work for — the residents in those long-term care beds."

Change from the grassroots up

"Folks like Mike — for us — are everything," says Jeff Whitson, a senior account manager for BC Hydro focused on healthcare. "He's critical. He's got the keys to the building, so to speak.

"He knows how those facilities run inside and out, top to bottom. A building will be tuned much better than if the person in his role doesn't know their facility as well, or doesn't care as much."

Whitson is charged with being BC Hydro's sole point of contact for all the health authorities in the province, to help make them more energy efficient. Over the last few years, he says, there's been increased acceptance from senior executives right down to grassroot employees about the mandate to try to make the hospitals greener and more efficient.

Efficiency means better comfort for residents

Echoing Fogarty's concerns about patient comfort and well-being, Whitson says greening healthcare facilities saves energy and benefits the health of residents.

"In the wintertime, when there are single-pane windows and drafts coming through and the building isn't managed as well as it could be because they're older facilities — then patients are complaining and what they end up doing is taking matters into their own hands," he says.

Patients bring in their own portable heaters and plug them in, which increases electricity consumption and costs.

"If the building was managed more effectively, and they had the right equipment, that wouldn't have to happen. And patient comfort and well-being would improve," Whitson adds.

Continuous optimization, real savings

Mike Fogarty always has those patients in the back of his mind as he continues to implement VIHA's Continuous Optimization project — a BC Hydro program that supports recommissioning buildings to find low-cost and no-cost operational measures that help save energy.

Fogarty says Continuous Optimization involves the building automation system, a computer-based program used to monitor everything from the operating machinery; air handling units and the air conditioning.

Along with knowledgeable HVAC contractors, Fogarty went through all of VIHA's buildings to see where energy efficiencies could be found.

Whitson says Fogarty's willingness to "share the keys to the plant" with outside consultants trying to help with energy efficiency makes all the difference.

"These guys are mechanical wizards most times, the consultants we hire. But they can't do it without the help of people like Mike Fogarty," says Whitson, adding that  "sometimes, it becomes very territorial and you can imagine, if someone doesn't want a consultant in their hospital poking around, they can make that consultant's life a nightmare."

Most gratifying to Fogarty is when the cooperation pays off.

"We saw physical results on a graph — how much kilowatt hours we saved, which convert to actual dollar savings. It was pretty satisfying to have done a day's work and then in a few days we'd get a graph showing the reduction that we had actually made in dollars and cents."

It's hard not to notice how Mike Fogarty, the reluctant hero, likes to credit his colleagues. But as he goes back to checking the building automation system on his computer screen, he notes once again that it's the residents who he thinks of as his bosses.

"You want to keep them as warm and well as possible. If you picture your mother or father or whoever in these rooms, you want to make them as comfortable as possible."