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04 Feb 23 101 0 0

With an eye on the climate, a helping hand for health care’s front lines

Cool Story - With an eye on the climate, a helping hand for health care’s front lines

Amid a record-breaking heat wave, an elderly woman struggles in a community health clinic in rural Texas. She's in the grip of a terrible asthma attack, wheezing and gasping for air. As medical personnel hurries to the scene, the lights and air conditioning go out due to an overloaded electrical grid.

As the world heats and weather events become more frequent and severe, scenarios like this become increasingly concerning. In response, Harvard specialists on climate change's health effects have collaborated with disaster relief group Americares to develop a climate-change "toolkit" that provides information, advice, and support to frontline health clinics that serve tens of millions of low-income Americans.

The Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics Toolkit, which was unveiled in December, was created by experts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) for distribution by Americares, which works with community health centers and free clinics across the country. The toolbox includes checklists for clinic personnel, instructions on how to create action plans, and easy counsel for patients suffering from diabetes, kidney illness, dementia, and other ailments during excessive heat.

C-CHANGE interim director Aaron Bernstein, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital, believes that preparedness for climate-related health impacts has not moved as swiftly as the risk. Climate change, according to Bernstein, not only affects patients with illnesses such as asthma and pregnancy, but some calamities, such as those that disrupt electricity supplies, might impair the ability of healthcare workers to respond.

"I was inspired by how little research has been done at the nexus of climate resilience and health care," Bernstein said. "And when we went into that issue, it became evident that what little has been done in the scope of huge hospitals in big cities. If there is a method to make health care more resilient to climate shocks, it may not be the ideal location to invest since we believe that the majority of the need for health care in the aftermath of these disasters occurs on the ground.”

Clinics, according to Kristin Stevens, Americares' senior director of climate and disaster resilience, are a vital aspect of our healthcare system because they serve the same mostly low-income population that is most vulnerable to heat waves, flooding, and other climate catastrophes. In addition to being responsible for caring for this vulnerable population, clinics and centers are vulnerable, often lacking emergency management and suffering with limited resources and overwhelmed employees.

It's important to recognize that these health clinics do not have their emergency management. "They're strapped for time, strapped for money, and strapped for employees," Stevens explained. "They aren't in a position to perform basic emergency preparedness, let alone consider how their environment and community are faring."

The effort's origins can be traced back to a trio of devastating disasters in 2017: hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, following which Americares increased its contingency plans. C-CHANGE then-Director Gina McCarthy appeared at an American conference a few years later, according to Stevens, kicking off the cooperation between the two groups.

Today, C-CHANGE provides clinical knowledge about the health effects of climate change, whereas Americares provides operational expertise about disaster response.

The toolkit was created by polling clinics and holding focus groups to better assess the state of local preparation. According to the surveys, 81 percent of clinic staff have experienced an extreme weather-related disruption in the last three years, less than 20 percent believe their facility is "very resilient," 77 percent don't have enough knowledge or tools to prepare for climate-related disruptions, and 80 percent want education and training to help them serve patients when facing climate disasters.

The toolbox, which can be found on the Americares website, includes information for high heat, wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. For example, clicking on "Heat" brings up three lists of documents: one for physicians, one for patients, and one for administrators.

There are lists of tip sheets, operational guidance, and action plans for each category, covering topics such as what to do in a power outage for administrators, how to handle patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, or dementia for providers, and tip sheets for those managing heat and their diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or cardiovascular disease for patients.

According to Bernstein, the clinics are not only sites of need, but also major resources in their own right. Providers know their patients and may be aware if someone is elderly, lives on the top level of a walkup, does not have air conditioning, and may require additional assistance during a prolonged heat wave.

"A lot of the harms from these disasters are avoidable, and no one has thought through how these clinics may truly help prevent harm before the tragedy," Bernstein said. "We rapidly saw that there was a potential not only to assist the clinic in dealing with crises as they occurred but also to keep people out of harm's way in the first place."

The above article is selected by CoolDeeds.org. The information and the assets belong to their respective owners (original link).

 


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