FACT SHEET: Strengthening the Climate Resilience of the Health Care Sector
Health Care Leaders partner with Administration to enhance public health, increase resilience of health care facilities to extreme weather
President Obama has made it clear that we have a moral obligation to our children and future generations to leave behind a planet that is not polluted and damaged. That is why, as part of his effort to combat climate change, the President launched a Climate Action Plan last year to cut carbon pollution, prepare communities for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to address this global challenge.
As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative to develop tools and information to help health care facilities prepare for the impacts of climate change and increase their resilience. Today, as part of this Initiative, the Administration is releasing a best practices guide for health care providers, design professionals, policymakers, and others to promote continuity of care before, during, and after extreme weather events. This document identifies the current status of health care infrastructure’s resilience to extreme weather risks, as well as best practices health care organizations can adopt to improve their climate readiness.
In addition, leaders from across the health care industry, including from some of the Nation’s largest healthcare providers, are announcing their commitment to enhance the climate resilience of their facilities and operations, using the Administration’s guide as foundation.
The Climate Action Plan recognizes that even as we take aggressive action to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, we must also prepare for the climate impacts we are already seeing across the country. The National Climate Assessment, released in May, 2014, confirms that changes in climate threaten human health and well-being in many ways, including through impacts from extreme weather events, wildfire, and decreased air quality; that some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States; and that climate change will amplify some of the existing health threats the nation now faces in the future.
Accordingly, HHS recognizes climate change as one of the top public health challenges of our time. Climate change related health threats such as heat waves, droughts, and worsened air pollution are anticipated to put additional strain on our health care system through associated illnesses and exacerbation of chronic conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. For example, the warmer temperatures spurred by carbon pollution can worsen asthma, which already impacts more than 9 percent of children in the U.S. and is the third leading cause of hospitalizations for children. And severe weather events – some of which are expected to grow more frequent and severe as a result of climate change -- highlight vulnerabilities in our health care system that can lead to human suffering and economic losses.
American communities depend on hospitals to provide essential services at all times, and under all circumstances, and climate change places our hospitals and those services at risk. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita prompted the evacuation of over 4 million people, and destroyed at least eight hospitals. Damages from Superstorm Sandy cost New York City public hospitals $800 million, with an estimated $3.1 billion in recovery costs to healthcare facilities.
Climate Resilience Guide for the Health Care Industry
With the health care sector comprising 20 percent of the U.S. economy, climate change impacts on the sector are both a public health and an economic threat. The HHS climate resilience guide, titled “Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate,” is intended to address a wide range of health care facility vulnerabilities. It spans risks related to buildings, utilities and infrastructure, including IT infrastructure, supply chain issues, the needs of staff, and the role of the healthcare facility in the broader community. It is intended to be helpful to a broad spectrum of facilities from complex university hospitals to outpatient service providers and nursing facilities.
The guide focuses on the following resilience principles and practices:
- Developing and maintaining data on climate hazards and infrastructure vulnerabilities
- Understanding the regulatory, design, and land use context of a facility’s location
- Constructing or retrofitting infrastructure in manner that is both sustainable and better at withstanding future events
- Prioritizing resilience measures for high priority, vulnerable functions and areas
- Strengthening ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges, and other hazards to facilities
In addition to the climate resilience guide, HHS is developing a suite of online resilience tools for health care facilities to add to the Administration’s new web-based Climate Resilience Toolkit, which provides easy, intuitive access to dozens of Federal tools that can directly help planners and decision makers across America conduct their work in the context of a changing climate. The new information, which will be available in the coming months, will include health and health care related fact sheets, checklists, resources, and a database of case studies that provide examples of how facilities have addressed the range of climate change related hazards relevant to different regions of the country.
Health Care Industry Commitments
Today, leaders from the health care industry, professional associations, and organizations announced their commitment to take action to strengthen the resilience of the health care system. These organizations, some of the largest and most influential health care organizations in the country, recognize that health care facilities are anchors for communities, and have committed to using the Administration’s climate resilience guide to help them plan to withstand extreme weather events and other climate impacts. The organizations are:
Health Care Providers
By its participation in the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Challenge, Ascension has committed to 20% energy reduction based on 2008 baseline year by 2020. Ascension is investing approximately $20- $30 million each year in a variety of climate mitigation and resilience strategies to achieve this energy goal.
Through Energy Star and the Better Buildings Challenge, Cleveland Clinic is working to become 20% more energy efficient by 2020 from a 2010 baseline on its 24 million square feet of facilities, and investing approximately $35-40 million each year in a variety of climate mitigation and climate resilience strategies to achieve its goals.
Dignity Health has committed to conduct a vulnerability assessment to better account for the latest scientific research on climate change. This analysis will be used to update its emergency operations plans and many other system wide improvements. Dignity Health wholeheartedly commends the Administration’s efforts to promote climate resilience and fully supports the principles outlined in this guide.
In 2008, Gundersen was the first health system to commit to energy independence and reached its goal of attainment in 2014. Gundersen today announced a commitment to reduce the organization’s energy consumption by 25% and increased conservation activities to ensure that in times of climate stress or disaster it is easier to cover needs with back-up energy options; obtain 100% of its heat and power from methane piped directly from a local landfill and wood chips from regional sawmills through its existing renewable energy projects as direct heat and power options in the event traditional energy options become compromised; provide 100% alternative power options for the pumps and heat recover chillers for the previously installed large geothermal field under parking lots for local heat and cooling source; increase partnerships for locally sourced food by 40% to ensure there is enough supply to feed patients for an extended period of time in the event of a disaster; increase walk to work incentive utilization by 50% for employees to live in the adjacent neighborhood; invest 20% more in walk/bike to work options and local park improvement options to ensure that in the event transportation options are diminished, employees will still have the ability to get to work and care for the patients in need; and conduct a climate variability assessment to further understand opportunities for future planning.
Inova Health System
Inova is committing to assess the vulnerabilities in its facilities and operations in light of a changing climate through a process of assessments that consider its unique necessities. Inova is taking actions to enhance its sustainability and climate resilience and will continue to implement thoughtful strategies to minimize its own contribution to detrimental impacts through environmental interventions.
With award-winning efforts to reduce waste, purchase safer materials, source sustainable food and procure renewable energy, Kaiser Permanente is a leader in addressing the potential impacts of climate change on health. Kaiser Permanente is committed to adding climate-change resiliency measures to the work it already does to ensure its ability to provide timely and responsive care during severe weather events and other emergencies.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
As part of its commitment to sustainable and resilient design, MSK has designed two new facilities that are expected to be completed over the next four years. In addition to reducing energy use and improving efficiency, the new buildings are designed to be fully operational in the event of power loss. MSK has taken additional steps to improve climate resilience, including taking a proactive approach to flood protection by designing all levels below the 100 year flood elevation to be dry-proofed. As a supporter of the Administration’s Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative, MSK will continue to work to improve hospital resilience in face of the extreme weather challenges of the future.
Partners Healthcare made a commitment in 2008 to reduce its environmental footprint, which includes a plan to reduce energy consumption by 25% by 2015 against a 2008 base. By reducing baseline energy consumption by 25%, Partners’ clinical facilities extend the duration they are able to operate on emergency power by 33%, enhancing their resilience and ability to maintain critical operations. At several sites, emergency power is supplemented by on-site cogeneration, providing flexibility in the provision of ongoing services. Partners intends to undertake a climate vulnerability assessment of key clinical and research facility sites and develop a climate resiliency plan in response to projected sea-level rise in Boston Harbor and increasingly severe weather events. In response to this evolving threat on the continuity of healthcare services, Partners has constructed one of the first hospitals in the world – Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital - that is designed to be climate resilient.
ThedaCare is on a mission to improve the health of its communities by greatly reducing its energy, waste, and water use, including planning for energy neutrality, zero waste, and closed loop water systems by 2025. ThedaCare is searching for sustainable, self-sufficient energy solutions that do not rely on the existing power grid, and plans to pilot the solutions next year. ThedaCare also plans to conduct climate vulnerability assessments on a cross section of its facilities to justify these investments. Because ThedaCare serves as an anchor in its communities, it sees an opportunity to lead discussions on climate change by showcasing the latest climate adaptation and resilience practices to local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community leaders. As a result, ThedaCare will convene its second annual Climate Change and Health Summit in February 2015 to create a local forum to address this critical issue.
University Hospitals (UH) has an Emergency Operations Plan for its main campus, UH Case Medical Center, and each of its eight community medical centers, as well as a structure for deploying a system-level response. Several specific emergency events included in these plans are relevant to climate-change-related risks -- such as its response to a surge in patient volume, its preparedness for damage to the water supply, and its response to extreme weather events. UH is committed to augmenting its system-level hazard vulnerability analysis with climate vulnerability assessments. In addition, UH is committed to increasing its ongoing energy conservation measures to help ensure long-term resilience in the ability to operate its buildings, and to continuously educate its disaster response teams and leadership about the impacts of climate change on the region’s public health, including the possible effects of climate change on the severity and frequency of disasters. In addition to these efforts, UH is engaged in the City of Cleveland’s Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative, which includes promoting climate resilience in the city and region.
In 2013, Virginia Mason earned an EPA Energy Star rating, created the Pacific Northwest Health Care Sustainability Leadership Roundtable, and was named one of the 50 greenest hospitals in the U.S. by Becker’s Hospital Review. In 2014, it led the creation of the Washington State Businesses for Climate Action group, which lends a progressive business voice to the climate dialogue. In 2015, Virginia Mason will assess its climate resiliency vulnerability using the HHS best practices document, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate, as a foundation.
Associations and Organizations
The American College of Healthcare Executives
ACHE is an international professional society of more than 40,000 healthcare executives who lead hospitals, healthcare systems and other healthcare organizations. ACHE commits to disseminating the Administration’s climate resilience guide, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate, as a resource to help its members be better prepared and adapt to climate change.
The American Hospital Association
AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care providers committed to health improvement in their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which include nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks and other providers of care and 43,000 individual members. The AHA is also the parent organization of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, whose 11,000 members include architects and designers who plan health care facilities, constructors who build them, and facility managers and engineers who keep them operational and safe. The AHA is committed to integrating sustainable practices into the health care environment and encourages hospitals to exercise leadership in their communities by modeling ways to minimize, and even reverse, the impact of U.S. health care facilities on the environment. As part of its commitment to sustainability and resilience, the AHA commits to disseminating the document, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate to AHA members.
The American Institute of Architects
Earlier this year, the AIA joined other leaders of America's design and construction industry to promote resilience in contemporary planning, building materials, design, construction and operational techniques as the solution to making the nation's aging infrastructure more safe and secure. For the first time, the industry's CEOs jointly committed their design and construction sector organizations to significantly improve the resilience of the nation's entire built environment, including healthcare facilities, through research into new materials, construction procedures and other methods to improve the standard of practice. Among other things, they committed the industry to educating itself through continuous learning; to advocating for effective land use policies; to responding to disasters alongside first responders; and to planning for future events, with a strategy for fast recovery. In line with these goals, AIA is committing to make materials like the Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate guide document available to its members as key tools in preparing the healthcare industry to confront our nation's toughest challenges through the power of design.
The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing state and territorial public health agencies in the United States and over 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO has a strong commitment to help state and territorial public health agencies be better prepared to respond to all hazards, including climate change-exacerbated extreme weather events, and plans to broadly disseminate the guide document, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate, to promote the sustainability and resilience of the U.S. health care infrastructure.
Health Care Without Harm
HCWH is a collaborative campaign for environmentally responsible health care made up of more than 250 organizations representing an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations and religious groups. Partnering with more than 1,200 U.S. hospitals, Health Care Without Harm is setting out to accelerate investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency; scale the health sector’s adoption of climate change mitigation and resiliency programs; and advocate for local, state, and national policies that ensure a sustainable and healthy future for individuals and communities. In addition to forming a leadership body of health systems called the Health Care Climate Council, Health Care Without Harm is building a learning community around resilience within the health sector by providing regional trainings, events, and webinars as well as hosting CleanMed, the leading conference on sustainability in health care. HCWH will utilize its hospital networks and leadership body to broadly disseminate the guide document, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate as part of its overall efforts to make hospitals more resilient, environmentally sustainable, and leaders in addressing the causes and impacts of climate change.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials
NACCHO is a key source of information for the nation’s 2,800 local health departments and 146,000 health department staff. In a recently released study, NACCHO found that nearly eight out of 10 local health department directors believe climate change is occurring now, and more than half think it is harming the public or will begin to in the next decade. Yet, nearly nine out of 10 local health department directors said their health department lacked sufficient resources to effectively protect the local population from the health impacts of climate change. NACCHO works hard to equip local health officials with easy-to-use tools, information, and resources—such as the NACCHO Climate Change Toolkit—to help mitigate health-related consequences of climate change. NACCHO will inform local health departments about the resources and guidance provided in the guide document, Primary Protection: Enhancing Healthcare Resilience for a Changing Climate, by actively raising awareness and dissemination of this guide document through various communication channels—such as NACCHO’s Preparedness Brief website, print publications, social media, and official NACCHO Committees.