Many health care facilities across North America have already experienced extreme weather events (e.g. storms, floods, wildfires, extreme temperature events) that can create emergencies by damaging infrastructure, compromising access to critical resources (e.g. food and water) and have challenged the safety of patients, visitors and staff.
Floods in Calgary and Winnipeg, ice storms in southern Ontario, and hurricanes in Nova Scotia have all resulted in hospitals struggling to keep their facilities open. Climate change can also increase the risks of some infectious diseases (vector-, water- and food-borne, new and emerging) and worsens air quality. Climate-related hazards can have significant implications for demand on health care facility services and are expected to create risks that can disrupt health care facility services and delivery.
Prominent medical and health bodies have made their positions on climate change well known. The Lancet reports that climate change is increasingly recognized as a significant threat facing society and has the potential to be one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st Century
The World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change calls for action in five main areas; advocacy to combat global warming; leadership; help people be healthy enough to adapt to climate change; education and capacity building; surveillance and research; and collaboration to prepare for climate emergencies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on the health care sector to prepare for climate change impacts through efforts to increase resiliency.
In Canada, a Health Canada report indicates that Canada is likely to experience higher rates of warming in this century than most other countries in the world. Climate change scenarios predict an increased risk of extreme weather which we are already starting to experience, and other climate events for all regions of Canada, with the exception of extreme cold. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has developed a Climate Change and Human Health Policy that was written to complement the WMA declaration noted above.
Health care organizations in Canada can increase resiliency by continually mainstreaming climate change into risk assessments, considering climate change when developing plans and activities, retrofitting their facilities and engaging in broader community discussions and initiatives around climate-related issues.
For example, health care and public health professionals and staff, can prepare for climate change by assessing risks from extreme weather events, readiness to manage climate-related infectious disease outbreaks or atypical cases and increasing understanding of how gradual shifts in weather can affect risk profile. Health care facilities can reduce risks of climate change through proper management of critical resources (e.g. pharmaceuticals, food, transportation, medical supplies and equipment) based on climate change considerations.
A resilient health care facility is also one that commits to sustainable practices, such as water and energy conservation, promoting active transportation, and local food procurement. By investing in resiliency activities in these areas, health care facilities can reduce operating costs, increase resilience in the community and be open for business when disaster strikes.
The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care’s The Health Care Facility Climate Change Resiliency Toolkit can help facilities identify where they need to target their efforts. Contained in the Toolkit are three components:
- Facilitators Guide, which introduces the toolkit and guides the users through a suggested approach,
- Assessment Checklist, which facilities can use to assess their resiliency, and
- Resource Guide for additional informational resources.
Chair of the Coalition, Kady Cowan from University Health Network, has already started to think about how climate change can impact the facility she works at. “It’s inevitable that health care facility staff will all be faced with some pretty serious consequences of climate change,” says Kady Cowan, Energy Steward at Toronto’s University Health Network. “We are trying to prepare for these now. Making sure the right people have the right information is a first step anyone can start at any time. The Climate Change Resiliency Toolkit can help get this conversation going. Especially helping staff identify where they need to target their efforts within facilities. Guiding people through these new conversations, keeping the conversation going and listening deeply to the diversity of expertise needed to plan for climate change in health care will be the best thing that individuals can do right away.”
A webinar featuring the online version of this toolkit with a built-in scoring system will be provided from the Coalition in spring 2105. Be sure to join us!