Paris and Beyond: Dignity Health Acts on Climate as Part of Healing Mission

Last week, Dignity Health announced that it was halting investments in coal companies in order to protect human health. On the heels of this news, we caught up with Sister Susan Vickers, Dignity Health's Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, and Rachelle Wenger, Director of Public Policy & Community Advocacy, who were in Paris for the UN conference on climate change. We asked them about the significance of these talks and what climate change means for health care.

U.S. health care has a moral obligation to provide climate leadership. We must continue to further promote health and healing at home and in the world. We cannot have healthy people,healthy communities without a healthy planet. We must do our part to mitigate our own climate impacts, become more climate resilient and lead by example.

On the domestic front, the United States cannot sustain its health care mission, much less successfully advance transformation, if climate change is ignored. We must work to address Affordable Care Act’s triple aim of decreasing health care costs, elevating quality of care (including preventative care), and improving population health by aligning/implementing climate solutions that promote the triple bottom line of healthy communities, health economy, and healthy planet.

In the international arena, we must maintain and advance our influence to promote meaningful global policies to tackle climate change and its impact to environmental, social and economic determinants of health, such as clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter, and uninterrupted employment.

For Dignity Health, sustainability and environmental stewardship are central to our mission. Our values call us to further promote what Pope Francis teaches on integral ecology—that we must uphold the sacredness and dignity of human life and all of creation, by integrating social justice and economic equity with our understanding of global climate change and actions to address it.

Our mission explicitly calls us to advocate for those who are poor and vulnerable, in this instance those least among us to contribute to this crisis and yet disproportionately impacted by its effects. Domestic and global solutions are needed to protect human health and the health of our common home. For us, this has meant the world and what it means to be fully human in the world. Actively engaging in tackling climate change, especially in the international arena, highlights this exquisite connection I have with others and Earth. In this way I can say, work isn’t a job but a vocation, a deep sense of calling to live with purpose and meaning. We’ll always have Paris.

Dignity Health System is a member of the Health Care Climate Council, a leadership network of hospitals committed to strengthening the health sector’s response to climate change.