How US hospitals are confronting climate change

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With hospitals increasingly seeing patients with heat-related illness and respiratory illnesses likely tied to smoke from wildfires, the healthcare industry is taking steps to confront these climate-sensitive health threats, Kaiser Health News reported.

Renton, Wash.-based Providence, one of the largest health systems in the U.S., has been invited to speak at the Race for Our Planet event hosted by the British Embassy in Rome. The event, which focuses on shifting to a decarbonized economy, comes on the heels of Providence's Earth Day 2020 announcement that it is committing to be carbon negative by 2030.

"Each year, the U.S. healthcare sector contributes 8.5 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases, and 27 percent of healthcare emissions worldwide. It is therefore imperative that health systems have a seat at the table to discuss solutions to mitigate climate change and reduce the impact of our operations," Providence Chief Advocacy and Sustainability Officer Ali Santore said in a news release. "As one of the largest healthcare systems in the nation, Providence bears significant responsibility to lead the industry to change for the benefit our patients, employees and the planet."

To uphold its carbon negative commitment, Providence said its early focuses include waste optimization, transition to renewable energy sources, local and sustainable foods, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from anesthetic agents and other chemicals, and reducing emissions from business travel, product delivery, fleet vehicles and employee commuting.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington has focused on climate issues, too, partially by reducing emissions by about 9 percent in the last six years by renovating and building structures for better energy efficiency and converting off-site facilities to run 50 percent on renewable natural gas, according to Kaiser Health News.

The publication also reported that many U.S. hospitals have started installing solar panels, among other efforts. 

At the federal level, HHS announced in August that it would create an office tasked with targeting carbon emissions from hospitals, and President Joe Biden launched a federal effort Sept. 21 to address health risks associated with extreme heat.

Still, healthcare executives are being careful not to jeopardize patient safety and to avoid legal liability in their sustainability efforts, Kaiser Health News reported.

There also has been some resistance to sustainability commitments among healthcare groups because of cost and regulatory concerns, Robyn Rothman, associate director of state policy programs at Health Care Without Harm, an environmental advocacy group, told Kaiser Health News.

Read the full report here

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