Healthcare Leaders Dr. Jeff Thompson and Gary Cohen: "Champions" of Fighting Climate Change

By Bob Herman
Published August 7, 2013
Becker's Hospital Review

Climate change may seem like a divisive policy issue, but after Hurricane Sandy decimated parts of New York City and other areas along the East Coast, the tone of the discussion began to take a turn.

For example, in June, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out a $20 billion plan to protect the metropolis against the effects of climate change. Interestingly, Mayor Bloomberg said hospitals play a key role in the fight. He suggested all new hospitals meet more rigorous flood elevation standards, and by 2030, he wants all existing hospitals retrofitted with better electrical equipment, emergency power systems and domestic water pumps. This announcement came mere weeks before President Barack Obama laid out his plan to fight climate change over the next several years.

For two healthcare leaders, climate change has become a paramount focus, so much so that their efforts have been nationally recognized. In July, the Obama administration honored 11 "Champions of Change." These people, according to the White House, have taken direct measures to cut carbon pollution, protect public health and raise community awareness on the effects of climate change.

Two of those honorees were Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., and Gary Cohen, co-founder and president of Health Care Without Harm, Practice Greenhealth and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Dr. Thompson's health system is set to be energy independent by next year, and Mr. Cohen has organized more than 600 hospitals and health systems to work together and collaborate on ways to improve environmental health and sustainability. Dr. Thompson and Mr. Cohen recently took some time to share their experiences at the White House event, why sustainability matters in healthcare and how hospitals fit into the climate change dialogue.

Question: I'm sure when you started to get into healthcare sustainability strategies, you thought it may eventually lead to White House honors?

Gary Cohen: That's the hope, right?

Dr. Jeff Thompson: [Laughs] That was the plan! Seriously, any outcome that gets huge, positive recognition for our community is very exciting.

Q: What was the Champion of Change event like, and what does it mean that your organization and health system were represented?

Continue reading full interview from Becker's Hospital Review