House committee issues report and hears testimony on health care and the climate crisis
WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee released a new report detailing the important role the U.S. health system plays in the climate crisis. The committee also heard expert testimony as witnesses from some of the country’s top hospitals and health care organizations – including Health Care Climate Council members Providence and Mass General Brigham – spoke about the impacts, challenges, and solutions for health care in addressing climate change, and the importance and urgency of taking action.
Yesterday’s events are the latest step by a committee with a continuing interest in climate change's impact on the health care sector, and follow a request for information that was sent to a select group of health care organizations and other stakeholders in March 2022 asking about their work combating climate change and how climate-fueled extreme weather events have affected their operations.
The Ways and Means Committee analyzed the responses they received from those health care organizations – representing a wide range of care and collectively providing services for millions of patients each year – and incorporated their findings into the new report, "Health Care and the Climate Crisis: Preparing America’s Health Care Infrastructure."
The report indicates the U.S. health system is at various stages in confronting different aspects of the climate crisis, including addressing its own emissions – which account for nearly 10 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions – and that the federal government has an important role to play in supporting the sector in tackling these challenges.
"We need to encourage urgent, measurable action," said committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.). "There is no one size fits all, but the federal government can move the industry from a piecemeal approach to intentional comprehensive strategies."
During yesterday’s committee hearing, "Preparing America’s Health Care Infrastructure for the Climate Crisis," expert witnesses spoke to some of the challenges detailed in the report. They testified about the many ways the climate crisis has affected the patients and communities they serve, how climate change has disrupted their operations and patient care, and their plans and actions to reduce their operations’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Quotes from witnesses
"Health care itself is a leading contributor to pollution and climate change, against the mission to first do no harm, and mitigating health care pollution is a fundamental requirement for safe and high quality health care delivery."
– Jodi Sherman, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology of the Yale School of Medicine, associate professor of epidemiology in environmental health sciences, and founding director of the Yale Program on Healthcare Environmental Sustainability in the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health
Read Dr. Sherman's full testimony
"I believe we urgently need to make changes in current practices to protect our health care system, improve its resilience, and better ensure that our hospitals will be able to care for all of us during future emergencies and disasters."
– Paul Biddinger, M.D., chief preparedness and continuity officer for Mass General Brigham and director of the Center for Disaster Medicine at Mass General
Read Dr. Biddinger’s full testimony
"As health care providers it is our charge to take care of people and address chronic health problems. At the very basic level, we cannot do that unless action is taken against these climate-related events."
– Parinda Khatri, Ph.D., CEO of Cherokee Health Systems
Read Dr. Khatri's full testimony
"Health care extends beyond the walls of our hospitals. We know that to improve the health of our patients, we must improve the environmental conditions in which they live, including reducing the negative health impacts from climate change."
– Elizabeth Schenk, Ph.D. RN, executive director of environmental stewardship for Providence
Read Dr. Schenk's full testimony
“Communities with the right preparation and mindset can avoid some of the worst public health risks associated with flooding, but it’s also the fiscally responsible approach.”
– Rich Powell, J.D., CEO of ClearPath Inc.
Read Mr. Powell’s full testimony