On Dec. 15 at a White House Roundtable, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled its Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative [PDF], with a new guide to help health facilities enhance their resilience to extreme weather events. Part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the guide offers a planning framework, case studies of responses to historical extreme weather events, and emerging practices for improving infrastructure resilience. A best practices document and accompanying web-based toolkit are planned for 2015.
HHS considers climate change one of the top public health challenges of our time, and hospitals are an essential part of the country’s responsiveness to the negative impacts of heat waves, floods, wildfires, worsened air pollution, and extreme storms and their aftermath. Damage to hospitals themselves is another key issue, one that was dramatically illustrated by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Climate change is expected to increase the severity of some extreme weather and could alter the range and intensity of infectious diseases, according to the HHS report.
Steps for building a climate-resilient healthcare sector, outlined in the new guide, start with raising awareness among health professionals about climate-related health impacts, particular issues in their regions, and specific resilience strategies. The guide also recommends assessing the vulnerabilities of health facilities, communities, and at-risk populations; building partnerships with energy, transportation, and other sectors of the community; and developing robust communication channels.