The White House is warning hospitals and other health care facilities to be prepared for climate change, issuing a report Monday for dealing with severe weather.
“Despite progress in some regions of the U.S., challenges remain with health care infrastructure resilience,” the report says. “While the weather itself and its direct effect on the health care system are uncontrollable, some elements of the system’s vulnerability can readily be improved. The difficulty lies in sharing and coordinating the information.”
Titled, “Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate," the report is clear in blaming recent severe weather on climate change, referring to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.
Some of the report’s suggestions seem fairly standard for severe weather matters — regardless of the cause — including placing emergency rooms away from areas prone to flooding and having backup plans for electricity generation and water supplies. The report also calls for hospitals to work with local governments on road plans to ensure that medical personnel and patients can make it to the hospital during a storm.
But it also calls for hospitals to use "predictive climate models" in construction.
"For critical health care facilities, it is no longer acceptable to design new buildings using current disaster thresholds," the report says. "Planning must recognize that hospitals have a minimum life of 50 years. Health care organizations should use predictive climate models to set design values, such as maximum outdoor air temperatures for load sizing, maximum rainfall events for stormwater systems, projected sea level rise for minimum elevations, and maximum wind speeds for enclosures of critical spaces."
The Obama administration released the National Climate Assessment in May, which said that climate change is creating more extreme weather. As part of the assessment, Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to create a “Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative,” which led to the study’s findings release Monday.
“All over the country, American communities depend on hospitals to provide essential services – at all times and under every possible circumstance,” Mike Boots, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a blog post Monday. “That’s why today, as part of the president’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is releasing a voluntary climate resilience guide for health care providers, design professionals, policymakers, and others to promote continuity of care before, during, and after extreme weather events. The new guide addresses a wide range of health care facility vulnerabilities and identifies best practices that health care organizations can adopt to improve their climate readiness.”
Several health care organizations endorsed the report, including Inova Health System, the Cleveland Clinic, Dignity Health, Gunderson, Kaiser Permanente, the American Hospital Association, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
The report’s release comes one day after about 190 countries, including the United States, agreed on establishing carbon emission reduction plans by March 2015 during the Lima Climate Conference in Peru, sponsored by the United Nations.