HHS Outlines Preparedness for Global Climate Change

HHS has released two reports on how it is preparing to respond to climate change. Climate change has been identified as one of the top public health challenges of our time according to HHS. One report, HHS Climate Adaptation Plan, describes how HHS can provide better health services and preparedness for changing health issues as a result of climate change. The second report; HHS’ 2014 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan describes what HHS is doing to mitigate the agency’s impact on global climate change.

Health Impacts

“Recent reports from the U.S. Global Change Research Program and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that climate change is already negatively affecting human health in the United States, and that it is likely to have greater harmful effects on human health in the future,” according to a statement from HHS. In its Climate Adaptation Plan, HHS identified increased respiratory stress from poor air quality including diminished lung function, increased risk of asthma and premature deaths as one of the main impacts of climate change on human health. Other impacts include increases in plant based allergens, increased exposure to toxic air pollutants, and increased respiratory and asthma conditions from an increased amount of fungus and molds resulting from extreme rainfall and rising temperatures. Conditions sensitive to extreme heat like cardiovascular disease, heat stroke, and respiratory disease could also increase as a result of global warming stated HHS.

Specific Populations

HHS is also worried about the impact of climate change on specific populations of people like the elderly, children, and those with chronic conditions. “Climate change is anticipated to have its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk and who have the fewest resources to address or adapt to climate change,” said HHS. Seniors are more at risk from extreme heat waves and have more underlying diseases that increases their health risks and morbidity. HHS pointed out that lower-income people have higher rates of asthma, diabetes and other chronic disease that maybe exasperated by global climate change.

Emergency Preparedness

Increasing the emergency preparedness of the health care system was a large component of HHS’ Climate Adaptation Plan. The objective of a Proposed rule issued in December of 2013 is to establish consistent emergency preparedness requirements for health care providers participating in Medicare and Medicaid and was proposed with global climate change in mind. The Proposed rule would require emergency plans, policies and procedures, communications plans, and training and testing by providers and suppliers who participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Some of the greatest threats to health as a result of global climate change will come from more frequent and severe weather events like heat waves, drought, wildfires, heavy rainfall and flooding and CMS’ main goal is prepare for these natural disasters, said HHS.

In addition HHS is preparing additional reports to assist local health care planning and delivery agencies respond to national disasters, and increasing awareness and participation of volunteer medical groups like the Medical Reserve Corps which is an organization of 200,000 volunteers organized in almost 1,000 local units. These groups and groups participating in the Health Care Coalitions are committed to strengthening public health; reducing vulnerabilities; improving local preparedness, response and recovery capabilities; and building community resilience.

HHS’ Footprint

HHS’ Strategic Sustainability Report describes the agency’s efforts to reduce its impact on global warming. HHS reports that it has reduced its greenhouse gas emission by 12.3 percent when compared to 2008 by reducing energy use and employee travel. The report acknowledges that HHS is not meeting its target in using sustainable buildings. Only 0.73 percent of new and existing buildings are in compliance with Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High-Performance and Sustainable Buildings when it had a target of 15 percent of its leased buildings being in compliance with these guiding principles. The report goes on to describe HHS’ efforts at more efficiently using waters, electricity, renewable energy, and fleet management. HHS reports that in 2013 it awarded $40.9 million in contracts to improve energy savings and other efforts to reduce its impact on global climate change. HHS issued its first strategic sustainability report in 2010.