Arizona health department names 1st 'chief heat officer'

Eugene Livar, MD, is Arizona's inaugural "chief heat officer" — and the first statewide heat executive in the nation.

Dr. Livar was named to the role March 6 as part of Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs' Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan. The 55-page plan lays out short- and long-term recommendations to address extreme heat in the state, including the creation of a chief heat officer "to coordinate heat-specific efforts between agencies on shelter, energy, health, and disaster response."

Dr. Livar has served the Arizona Department of Health Services since 2012, according to a news release shared by ABC15. He most recently worked as assistant director for public health preparedness, and contributed to the state's heat plan. 

The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record in Arizona, according to Ms. Hobbs' plan. In Maricopa County — which includes Phoenix, America's hottest major city — more than 500 people died over the summer. Emergency rooms statewide recorded more than 4,000 heat-related visits during the same time period. 

Extreme heat has financial and operational consequences for Arizona's hospitals, according to the state health department. Emergency department costs due to heat-related illnesses increased sixfold from 2008 to 2022, from $4.7 million to $28 million. Heat-related hospitalization costs skyrocketed from $11 million in 2008 to $87 million in 2022. 

The issue has become glaring in the short term, too; emergency department visits for heat-related illnesses increased by more than 34% from summer 2022 to summer 2023. 

Arizona's health department has identified various areas of improvement for heat preparedness, including in power infrastructure at hospitals and medical clinics, according to Ms. Hobbs' report. The state will conduct an infrastructure assessment, it says.

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