Fires, floods, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather are increasingly threatening medical services, damaging healthcare facilities, and forcing patients to evacuate their hospital beds, according to medical centres across the country. Dr. Suzy Fitzgerald recalls seeing the hospital where she works engulfed in flames from a nearby wildfire.
“We were being fired upon from all three sides,” Fitzgerald recalled. At that point, I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is serious. We have to get them out of here. Nearly five years ago, while the fire ravaged Northern California, Fitzgerald assisted in the evacuation of 122 patients from the Santa Rosa Medical Center of Kaiser Permanente. There was so much smoke that the hospital had to close for 17 days.
According to a report released on Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee, medical facilities across the country have reported that fires, flooding, heat waves, and other extreme weather events are putting lives at risk, destroying health care facilities, and forcing patients to evacuate their hospital beds. Dr. Parinda Khatri, CEO of Cherokee Health Systems, testified that a paediatric clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee, had to close for 10 days this summer when the air conditioning equipment malfunctioned.
Elizabeth Schneck of Providence Health told the committee that in 2020, nearby wildfires triggered evacuations at facilities in Oregon. All told, 63 hospital networks and community health centres answered to the committee’s questionnaire, and the vast majority of them reported experiencing at least one extreme weather event in the past five years.
The stated monetary impact from weather disasters on the healthcare facilities was all over the place, ranging from $28,000 to $22 million to account for things like building damages, closures, evacuations, overtime for personnel, and postponed elective operations. The research states that the organisations may be over-representing either “big health systems with more resources to adopt high-cost initiatives” or “small community-based clinicians on the frontline with minimal supports,” neither of which is indicative of hospital systems across the country.
The survey found that hospitals are making more of an effort to plan ahead for and be ready for emergencies caused by extreme weather. Fitzgerald stated that during the 2017 wildfire evacuation, administrators at the Kaiser Permanente facility reviewed their procedures and implemented new protocols, such as a new information tag employees attach to patients detailing their condition and needs during an evacuation.
Fitzgerald said that the resulting response was “far more ordered” because of this. After seeing hurricanes and floods destroy hospitals in New Orleans, New York City, and Kentucky over the last two decades, the Mass General Brigham health care system in New England hired climate scientists and engineers to examine its 30 buildings, according to Paul Biddinger, the chief preparedness and continuity officer.
Biddinger has stated, “Our healthcare system is certainly vulnerable.” However, “many people, including leaders of health care companies themselves, often fail to comprehend the degree of risk.” The majority of the facilities that participated in the study said they have formed task forces or hired specialists to deal with climate change.
The emergency command centre of New York’s largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health, is equipped with televisions for news monitoring. At all times, two of the screens will be displaying the current weather. Northwell’s chief expense and chief sustainability officer, Donna Drummond, said that over the past five years, the healthcare system has had to deal with more than 20 weather events, ranging from flooding that has made it difficult for ambulances to navigate roads to gusty winds and snow that has threatened power.
When Northwell builds a new facility or hospital, extreme weather is taken into account, she said. Drummond remarked, “Climate change is here, it’s happening, and it’s impacting us.” We must maintain a strong mentality. In the case of a storm, our facilities must be safe and secure. As much as 10% of yearly U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are attributed to the health care system, and Vice President Joe Biden has set a goal of halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
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Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has requested that CMS issue regulations mandating the monitoring and reporting of emissions from healthcare facilities. There is an urgent need to take action since “more climate-related weather events and increased emissions will continue to impact health care outcomes,” he warned.
In response to the committee’s inquiry, almost 50% of the responding facilities reported either tracking their carbon footprint or participating in measures to minimise it. Associate Professor of Medicine at Yale University Jodi Sherman told the House Ways and Means Committee that many healthcare organisations are not doing enough to decrease pollution.
Sherman argued that “voluntary methods are insufficient” to effect change in the healthcare industry. All content is protected by The Associated Press’ copyright policy until 2022. Legally, that is. Nothing here may be copied, reproduced, republished, or redistributed in any form without my express written permission.
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