Less than two years ago, Stanford Hospital & Clinics found itself in a jam.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based healthcare facility faced rising operating costs that threatened to derail its 2008 budget. It needed to shave $14 million in expenses, and quickly.

Where did officials turn for inspiration?

To their employees, of course. And boy did it pay off.

One staffer noticed that Dumpsters were seldom full during trash pick-up days. Why not reduce the size of the bins and frequency of collection? Net annual savings: $87,000.

Another $147,000 was recouped when workers realized that only certain towels had to undergo full lint removal.

In under a year the hospital had implemented a number of suggestions, and savings actually surpassed the initial goal.

“We’re completely changing the culture of how things are done,” said Rex Fieck, director of materials management.