Declaring climate change to be a public health hazard, the Obama administration on Monday issued a new best practices guide to help hospitals and other health care facilities cope with multiple threats of extreme weather resulting from climate change.
Leaders within the healthcare industry met for a summit at the White House Monday to endorse the report, “Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate,” and commit to the precautions it recommends.
The “guide and tool kit” is designed to help health care providers and others assure “the continuity of quality health and human care before, during and after extreme weather events,” the report said.
The suggestions range from placing emergency rooms away from flood-prone areas to backup plans for the generation of electricity and water supplies. The report encourages all health care officials to work with local governments on road plans, to make sure that doctors, nurses and patients can get to health care facilities in an emergency. It also proposes building or rebuilding hospitals and other facilities so that they can withstand extreme weather events.
The administration’s National Climate Assessment, released in May, found that changes in climate are creating more extreme weather, including hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, heat waves, droughts and worsening air quality, the report said. That in turn is increasing risks to health.
The Department of Health and Human Services has declared climate change “one of the top public health challenges of our time,” warning that climate change will create new health problems while also exacerbating existing ones.
For example, warmer temperatures spurred by carbon pollution can worsen asthma, which already impacts more than 9 percent of children in the U.S. and is the third leading cause of hospitalizations for children. And severe weather events – some of which are expected to grow more frequent and severe as a result of climate change – highlight vulnerabilities in the health care system that can lead to human suffering and economic losses.
Among the health care organizations represented at White House meetings on Monday were: The Cleveland Clinic, Inova Heath System, Kaiser Permanente, the American Hospital Association, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
These and other organizations “have committed to using the Administration’s climate resilience guide to help them plan to withstand extreme weather events and other climate impacts,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House pointed out that in 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed at least eight hospitals near the Gulf Coast. Two years ago, Superstorm Sandy did at least $800 million worth of damage to public hospitals in and around New York City.
Today, the report said, too many health care facilities are vulnerable to future extreme weather events.
“While the weather itself and its direct effect on the health care system are uncontrollable,” the report says, “some elements of the system’s vulnerability can readily be improved.”