LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)—Senator Tammy Baldwin made her first official visit to La Crosse Friday, since being sworn in on January 3.
Sen. Baldwin toured Gundersen Lutheran Health System's campus renewal project as part of the visit.
"In 2009 when I was here, it was mostly about the discovery that, if they could reduce their energy costs, they could reduce health costs and make healthcare more affordable," Sen. Baldwin said. "But, it really grew beyond that."
Now, Gundersen Lutheran is actually implementing those steps to become energy efficient.
"The plans we made, here's what we plan to do for the community, are actually coming to fruition," said Dr. Jeff Thompson, the chief executive officer of Gundersen Lutheran.
Kari Houser, the director of construction, says there are lots of big and small steps, to reduce energy use and costs.
"We have the ground source heat pump, the geothermal system," Houser said. "It's underneath the parking lot now. It consists of some 150 pipes that are 400 feet deep and using the natural heat and cooling from the water below the surface. It allows us to reduce our cooling costs as well as our heating costs."
"[We have] a biomass boiler that will heat and partially power our campus from wood chips from our region," Dr. Thompson added. "So rather than getting coal from Wyoming or natural gas from Texas, it's local and it'll save us hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and also contribute to the local economy."
Sen. Baldwin also toured Gundersen's behavioral health building. She says the facility demonstrates a commitment to the community.
"It's also fascinating because it bucks a trend," Sen. Baldwin said. "So many health facilities are giving up providing behavioral health services, having designated beds in hospitals for behavioral health."
The behavioral building and the new hospital were constructed based on input from patients and staff, to make both more comfortable and family friendly.
"The example of an institution that isn't just focused on a core duty, treating sick people, but more broadly about quality of life and health for members of the community," Sen. Baldwin said.
Gundersen hasn't revealed the total cost of the project, but Dr. Jeff Thompson says the are under budget.
The project is currently on schedule and the hope is to admit the first patients to the new hospital in January or February of next year.
The behavioral health facility will be open to patients on February 5.
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