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Health care and climate change: Is your facility resilient?
March 18th, 2015
On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services released an 80-page guide designed to help hospitals and other health care facilities better prepare for an expected increase in severe weather events as a result of climate change. The same day, the White House hosted a group of health care organizations to discuss the issue.
The report, called Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate, includes a lengthy assessment of where the industry currently stands with regard to the ability of health care infrastructure to cope with severe weather threats. Then it shifts to proposing some best practices.
According to a fact sheet from the Council on Environmental Quality, which is part of the Executive Office of the President, “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.” Interestingly, the fact sheet later states, “HHS recognizes climate change as one of the top public health challenges of our time.”
Many of the recommendations have to do with how new facilities should be built, based on lessons learned from previous severe weather events. It doesn’t address response to pandemics, bioterrorism or “seismic events,” nor does it cover evacuation procedures. According to the report itself, it’s important to focus on infrastructure because, “Sustainable and resilient development practices are unevenly applied at regional, state and local levels, resulting in variable levels of climate change preparedness…”
I was pleased, however, to see that it’s not all about building construction. At one point, the report asks, “What good is a hospital that withstands a 500-year storm if personnel cannot get to work? If supplies of food, water, medical supplies or fuel are depleted after 96 hours?”
There’s a lot here, including a number of case studies from various health care facilities. From a health care quality perspective, I found it especially interesting that the report acknowledges the importance of establishing ways to measure this concept of “resilience.” As it states, “Any effort to compare benefits of increasing resilience with the costs of improvements requires a basis of measurement. At the moment, there is no unified, consistent metric for measuring resilience of health care infrastructure.” Something tells me we’ll start seeing a lot more work done in this area – both at the national level and internally as health care facilities weigh whether and to what extent they should upgrade or even replace elements of their infrastructure.