Health Care Climate Council members meet with Rep. Kathy Castor, Chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis
Earlier this week, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America,” a comprehensive plan with ambitious and actionable solutions to address climate change.
Health Care Without Harm and its Health Care Climate Council provided substantive input on climate-smart health care to the committee during the development of their plan.
The 538-page report is broken down into different topic areas, including one titled “Improve Public Health and Manage Climate Risks to Health Infrastructure.” (pages 313-338)
The report states, “Health issues and emergencies caused by surging climate impacts can strain the capacity of hospitals, public health professionals, and the entire health sector.”
Here are seven takeaways from the report specific to the health and the health care sector:
1. Provide more support for medically vulnerable communities
“The [COVID-19] pandemic also illustrates and exploits the pre-existing conditions affected by long-term exposure to air pollution that increase the risk of death in those with COVID-19. Therefore, climate policy solutions must also confront disproportionate public health and safety risks to vulnerable populations, particularly communities of color.”
- Increase funding for CDC grant programs to reduce health disparities for frontline communities affected by the climate crisis.
- Increase funding to the CDC Social Determinants of Health program to assess climate-related risks to public health, identify solutions, and put tools into practice to address social factors that contribute to preventable inequities in health outcomes.
- Increase funding to assess climate risks to vulnerable populations.
- Create a grant program to fund projects to increase resilience and energy efficiency and to support use of renewable energy for tribal, territorial, safety net, and rural hospitals and health facilities that primarily treat uninsured, underinsured, Medicaid, and other vulnerable populations, including Critical Access Hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Facilities, Rural Health Clinics, Tribal Health Centers, and Urban Indian Organizations.
2. Implement a national strategy for climate threats to public health
“Despite the increasing and significant impacts of climate on human health, the United States currently lacks a comprehensive national strategy to respond to the health risks and harms of the climate crisis.”
- Congress should direct HHS to develop a comprehensive national strategic action plan to address the physical and operational risks from climate change to public health systems and health care facilities, and to assist communities and public health departments in preparing for and responding to the public health risks of the climate crisis, including mental health and food insecurity.
- Congress should increase funds to the NIEHS for research on climate change and human health to improve understanding of climate-related health impacts.
3. Support health sector preparedness for the impacts of disasters
“Climate-fueled disasters can harm health through acute events, such as injuries and loss of life, and through reductions in access to essential health services. Several existing public health disaster response programs merit additional financial support.”
- Increase support and resources to help hospitals and health care facilities increase capacities and capabilities to confront climate threats.
- Ensure sufficient reserves are maintained for rapid response to declared public health emergencies and for activation of public health resources for an emergency (e.g., hurricane, wildfire) that requires a rapid response to save lives and protect the public.
- Enhance surge capacity for health sector emergency response, including providing for additional health care workers and adaptive physical capacity for patient care.
4. Strengthen mental health capabilities for climate resilience and preparedness
“The climate crisis is harming the mental health and well-being of individuals and communities, both through the acute impacts of climate-influenced disasters and through the chronic impacts of extreme heat, climate-related environmental changes, and associated social and economic dislocation.”
- Direct HHS to address mental health and community health resilience to climate change in the quadrennial National Health Security Strategy, identifying and mapping climate-related mental health impacts and addressing specific risks and barriers to the effective implementation of its mission and programs for mental health.
- Improve services to address acute mental health needs during and after disasters.
- Fund and direct HHS to expand community-based approaches to increasing mental health and community resilience, particularly for students and youth.
5. Ensure resilient public health supply chains
“Climate change poses threats to health care infrastructure and supply chains that could impair response to disasters and public health emergencies. Disruptions to supply chains for personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices are nearly always identified during an emergency when those disruptions can take a significant toll on event response, survivability, and recovery.”
- Direct HHS to conduct an annual assessment of weather-related threats to health care infrastructure and supply chains.
- Update national protection plans to assess climate-related risk and ensure the resilience of the nation's supplies of critical commodities, including medical supplies, equipment, and pharmaceuticals.
- Direct and fund the USPS to evaluate its operational resilience for sustained and reliable service in public health emergencies, extreme weather and other climate events.
6. Design and retrofit hospitals and health infrastructure for climate resilience
“Hospitals and health care facilities are on the front lines of the climate crisis, bearing the costs of increasing illnesses, injuries, and disease and more extreme weather events, including heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and storms.”
- Direct HHS to ensure that federally funded projects for construction, rebuilding, and retrofits to hospitals and health facility infrastructure use the latest published editions of building codes and climate-informed standards for energy efficiency, flood, and wildfire risks.
- Establish a new program at HHS to support pre-disaster hospital and health facility resilience projects, including retrofits and maintenance to reduce flood and wildfire risk, harden facilities against extreme weather, and integrate redundant water and power supplies, including microgrids and community renewable energy grids, where applicable, to enhance resilience and access to water and energy when certain portions of the grid are disabled.
- Direct HHS to update the Emergency Preparedness Rule to require health care facilities to prepare for extreme weather and climate impacts, including providing for energy resilience and innovative clean power sources for sustained power outages.
7. Restore and enhance U.S. leadership on climate and health
“Global-scale outbreaks not only threaten health, they also can contribute to civil disruption and depress demand for U.S. services and exports. American jobs and the U.S. economy depend on effective and functional global health surveillance and security capabilities to identify and respond to disease outbreaks whether they occur in the United States or overseas.”
- Support U.S. membership in and funding for WHO and support the WHO Global Programme on Climate Change and Health.
- Codify the GHSA Interagency Review Council to coordinate federal interagency health surveillance activities, including implementation of a national framework for zoonotic disease surveillance, and to share data and best practices for disaster preparedness, climate resilience, and mitigation.
Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, had this to say on the report: “The Select Committee's recommendations underscore the healthcare sector’s critical role in supporting community health and resilience in the face of climate impacts. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, we must build a more resilient public health and health care system that protects all Americans and works to heal the glaring racial and economic disparities that make people more vulnerable to harm and disease.”
At the core of many of these challenges and opportunities is resilience: community resilience, mental health resilience, hospital resilience, and supply chain resilience, just to name a few. For more than 20 years, Health Care Without Harm has led the health care sector in understanding its important role in creating and sustaining resilience.
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