The Health Care Sector & Climate Change

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The health care sector can play an important role in lessening, reversing and adapting to the effects of global climate change, according to an environmental health scholar at Georgetown University.

Laura Anderko, RN, Ph.D., the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values Based Health Care at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, served as lead author of the new publication, “Climate Change and Health: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector?”

Published by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the piece offers an overview of climate change and provides ways the health care field should respond.

A Changing World

“Our world is changing,” the authors write. “Human activities are causing environmental changes of epic proportions.”

They point to extreme weather events such as heat waves, melting of snow and ice with rising sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, more intense hurricanes and storms, wildfires and poorer air quality.

“In recent years, more than two billion people worldwide have been directly impacted by natural disasters related to weather phenomena including floods, droughts, heat waves and extreme cold,” the publication says.

Burden of Illness

Global climate change will affect health in a variety of ways, such as heat-related illnesses, poor birth outcomes, malnutrition and food security, water quality and infectious disease spread.

“Populations who are at greatest risk and considered most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change lack the ability to cope with the consequences of climate change,” the authors say.

Children, pregnant women, older adults and the poor are at heightened risk.

Health Care Response

Health care professionals and the health care sector as a whole can make a difference, the authors say.

Providers can reduce their personal carbon footprint, embrace sustainable lifestyles, and help patients and communities adapt to anticipated climate changes in their region.

“The health care industry also has a critical role to play in preventing climate change,” the authors say. “Hospitals use twice as much total energy per square foot as traditional office space.”

For example, hospitals can incorporate green building and smart landscaping into design and work to reduce water consumption.

“Health professionals are trusted by society worldwide,” they say. “They must honor the trust covenant they have with those they serve by advocating for policies and practices that will help to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

Publication Co-Authors

Co-authors are Stephanie Chalupka, professor and chair within the Dr. Lillian R. Goodman Department of Nursing at Worcester State University, and Brenda M. Afzal, former U.S. climate policy coordinator for Health Care Without Harm.

By Bill Cessato, NHS Communications
(Published April 18, 2012)