WILLSBORO - Willsboro's community health care facility is undertaking some changes to put its resources, natural and otherwise, to better use.
The Smith House health care center activated its brand new array of solar panels last week, marking a milestone on the organization's move to energy efficiency.
The photovoltaic panels were installed on the front lawn of the facility this summer after Smith House received a $400,000 grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
"We strategically put them there so everybody can see them," said Robin Pierce, executive director of Smith House. "I really think it's important for the community to see what we're doing for energy conservation."
Pierce said the panels will help reduce energy costs for Smith House, and electricity they generate during the building's off-hours can be sold back to the grid to further reduce monthly bills.
In addition to the solar panels, the grant helped fund an upgrade of the building's heating and cooling system. Local contractors were awarded bids to install a propane boiler to power a new air-exchange heating system.
Pierce said the propane system produces clean energy and is more efficient than the electric heating system previously in place. That switch alone is estimated to cut the building's electricity use in half.
"Plus, we're going to be able to meet the Department of Health air exchange standards for years to come," said Pierce. "It will extend the life of the building as a health care facility, and I don't know how to put a value on that."
Noting a reduced number of patients as summer wanes, Pierce said the Smith House's Willsboro location will reduce its schedule to a four-day week in the coming weeks in a further effort to improve efficiency. The building will be closed Friday through Sunday.
"We still have staff on call 24-7," Pierce said.
Changes are also occurring behind the scenes as Smith House has entered into a contractual agreement with Elizabethtown Community Hospital for assistance with administrative services. The agreement will go into effect Oct. 15.
Pierce said the agreement will allow the Smith House to address certain administrative issues more cost-effectively as ECH has a larger staff that is better equipped to provide the additional help Smith House needs for things like medical billing and information technology.
"The Smith House and Elizabethtown Community Hospital have worked together and supported each other over the years," said Pierce, "and this is just one more way of that happening."