Health Care Without Harm President Gary Cohen and Other Health Professionals Named Champions of Change by White House

Gary Cohen; Jeff Thompson, MD; and Laura Anderko, PhD, RN; Recognized for Efforts Linking Climate and Health

Washington, DC — Health Care Without Harm is pleased to announce that its President and Founder, Gary Cohen, has been named a Champion of Change in the category of Climate and Health by the White House. The honor is bestowed on Cohen and others who are leaders in making the link between climate and health, and helping the health sector lead the effort to reduce their contributions to climate change and prepare their communities for the threats to health related to climate change. Two of HCWH’s close allies were also selected as Champions of Change. They are Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Health System of LaCrosse, WI, and Laura Anderko, PhD, RN. The White House will hold a ceremony to honor the recipients on July 9, 2013.

Cohen’s efforts have been instrumental in turning the debate on climate change from one of politics to one of health. He has helped build coalitions and networks globally to address the environmental health impacts of our overuse of fossil fuels as energy and the resulting need to mitigate and adapt to climate change, with hospitals leading the way. Cohen has worked closely with hospitals to help them recognize and reduce their own contributions to climate change through burning of greenhouse gases, intense use of energy and provision of food services. Cohen also encourages health care professionals to speak out about climate change and its devastating health effects, and to lead their communities to both reduce climate change and develop resilience.

”The health care sector can be a very powerful ally in the effort to combat climate change, one of the greatest threats to health facing the world today,” stated Cohen. “Because we have been helping the health care sector reduce its use of fossil fuels, conserve energy and develop anchor institutions for community health, the health care sector is ready to partner with the Administration to help achieve the President’s climate change agenda.”

Believing that health care has a responsibility to support healthier people in healthier communities, Cohen has urged hospitals to reduce all of its pollution and lead our society toward renewable energy, local and sustainable food systems, safer chemicals and other mitigation efforts. He emphasized that hospitals and clinics need to be resilient and self sufficient—ie, the last ones standing rather than the first to go down in extreme weather events. He called on doctors, nurses, and other health care workers to be powerful spokespeople for policies that understand the true cost of a fossil fuel based economy and support the transition to a renewable energy and toxic free future. Read more on Cohen’s vision of health care’s role in his blog published on the White House website. 

Dr. Thompson has not only fully embraced sustainable health care for his health care system, he has assumed a national leadership role by developing his health system into a model of reduced energy consumption and use of alternative energies. Under Dr. Thompson’s leadership, Gundersen is on track to be 100 percent energy independent in 2014, through use of biogas from a garbage landfill for electricity and heat, a biomass boiler project which uses clean, locally sourced wood byproducts; and through two wind turbine projects. 

Dr. Anderko holds the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. A Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow, Dr. Anderko earned her Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Illinois, an MS from Northern Illinois University, and a BSN from University of Illinois. Dr. Anderko has conducted research, published widely, and been interviewed by the media about a range of public health issues, including the human health impacts of climate change. She regularly speaks out on climate change issues, including providing testimony to Congress. She most recently was a panelist during a webinar for the Climate Reality Project on the role of health care professionals in mitigating climate change. She has received the Health Care Without Harm Charlotte Brody Award for her advocacy work in environmental health. She is a member of the Health Care Without Harm Nurses Workgroup and is chair of the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Nurses for Health and the Environment.

Besides leading Health Care Without Harm for the past 17 years, Cohen has been instrumental in the founding of Practice Greenhealth, a membership organization for hospitals and related businesses developing sustainable operations, and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which provides a variety of free tools, education and other resources for hospitals to use to speed their transition to sustainability.

Cohen is a member of the International Advisory Board of the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, India, which has been working for over 25 years to heal people affected by the Bhopal gas tragedy and to fight for environmental cleanup in Bhopal. He is also on the Board of the American Sustainable Business Council and Health Leads. In 2006, Cohen received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. He has been recognized by the New England Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with an Environmental Merit Award in recognition of exceptional work and commitment to the environment. Cohen was named by the Huffington Post as a Game Changer in the Healthy Living. He is an Ashoka Fellow.