Case Studies

Greg Fink – Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

PSU Health steams ahead through pandemic

When Greg Fink returned to civilian life in 1991 after six years in the Navy, his challenge wasn’t finding a job—it was finding one as demanding as being a gas turbine mechanic.

“The Navy is fantastic in making sure you know all the intricacies of the systems and equipment you’re maintaining,” Fink says. “When I left, I needed something to fill that gap. I’m lucky I found it at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.”

Greg Fink | Program Director of Infrastructure and Energy | Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Greg Fink | Program Director of Infrastructure and Energy | Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Thirty years after joining the hospital in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Fink has become its program director of infrastructure and energy. Along the way, he’s helped maintain plumbing, heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems on the 550-acre Hershey Medical Center campus. He also helped add a new utility system, taking Penn State Health to new heights of energy efficiency.

“There’s a unique skillset,” he says, comparing it to other jobs. “You are a facilities manager, that’s familiar. The health care setting makes it unique, related to the institution. You’re affecting lives, livelihoods and peoples’ well-being.”

Steam age solution

Penn State Health’s Hershey campus includes Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and Penn State Cancer Institute, as well as Penn State College of Medicine. On campus and beyond, the system has more than 3,000 physicians and care providers at 126 outpatient practices in 94 locations.

“You have to be comfortable in the support role, for all the right reasons,” Fink says. “The folks on the front lines deserve the attention. We’re the bones behind the scenes and nobody knows we’re there. But when we break, everybody knows.”

Part of that maintenance includes sustaining a central utility plant installed in 1967 that heats and cools 85 percent of the campus. The boiler system has been augmented by a new power plant powered by a gas turbine generator and a heat recovery steam generator.

Greg Fink | Program Director of Infrastructure and Energy | Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

The CHP Plant

The power plant generates 8 megawatts and came online in January 2019. Because it recaptures steam, it operates at 85 percent efficiency. Most power plants operate at 30 to 35 percent efficiency, Fink says.

The power plant reduces carbon and greenhouse gas emissions by 46,000 tons annually, according to Cogen Power Technologies, which helped install the systems and trained employees to use it. That’s equivalent to taking 7,550 cars off the road. The power plant had a 97 percent runtime in its first year of operating and has exceeded 95 percent run times since (measured by how many days and hours it runs in a year).

“Having done a lot of projects, I’ve learned you run into folks you work well with,” Fink says. “They speak the same language, and this was not a case of them tossing us the keys and saying goodbye.”

It took a year to completely link the power plant to the campus internal grid. Detailed scheduling, and coordination with clinical staff, prevented power disruptions, Fink says.

Changing times

Since joining Penn State Health, Fink says he’s seen systems become more energy efficient and better built. For instance, air handlers have more fans so if one malfunctions, others can keep air flowing.

“You’re delivering utilities that have enough redundancy to avoid failures or mitigate their scope,” he explains.

More recently, Fink says he’s been working with the electrical manager to replace transformers on campus. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic was by far the greatest challenge he and his staff faced. He says it was important to be flexible, and that a strong network of vendors and contractors enabled pandemic-related projects to be quickly completed.

Greg Fink | Program Director of Infrastructure and Energy | Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

In addition to tracking and complying with pandemic rules and regulations they created environments with negative air pressure to help remove airborne virus particles from hospital rooms. In some instances, that involved removing windows that weren’t designed to open so they could add ventilation using negative air machines.

Years ago, the H1N1 swine and bird flus led to some changes in health care settings, but Fink says COVID-19 related changes could be more extensive. The current pandemic has had its own unique effects, including a demand for more space to treat pandemic patients away from other hospital areas, and a potential reduction in office space due to remote work.

While no decisions have been made, especially as the emergence of the delta variant has prevented fully lifting pandemic-related restrictions, Fink anticipates permanent changes to the campus.

“I’m a person who appreciates collaboration,” Fink says. “The most successful efforts are done in a group environment with diverse opinions.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IX 2021 Edition here.

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