By Mallika Yadwad, Program Associate, Federal and State Policy, and Jessica Hinshaw, Program Manager of Public Health Priorities, NACHC.
As world leaders gather in Egypt to discuss the threat of climate change, U.S lawmakers are also investigating how the changing climate is affecting people here. Lawmakers on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee recently released a report, “Health Care and the Climate Crisis: Preparing America’s Health Care Infrastructure.” It highlights the effects of climate-related issues on health care providers and organizations and the populations they serve. NACHC and 26 Community Health Centers weighed in to offer the health center perspective.
The 26 participating health centers assessed the impact of climate change on their sites and patient populations, comprising 54% of the provider types surveyed by the Committee, overwhelmingly the largest category. The findings from the report confirm what many in the Community Health Center Movement already know: that climate change disproportionately affects health centers and patients.
As safety-net providers, health centers do not have access to the same resources and funding as larger health care systems to address climate change. One health center said,
“We have been hit hard by hurricanes in the past and serve many farmworkers who are constantly affected by rising temperatures and more extreme weather events. It is impossible for the board to tackle all the problems at once.”
Report findings document need for more health center resources
Key takeaways from the report include:
- Only 1 in 6 health center respondents – compared to 8 out of 9 hospital systems – reported having internal sustainability targets, an indication of the disparity in access to resources and capital for health centers to establish these targets.
- A majority of nonprofit organizations reported the inability to access federal tax incentives as a barrier to equipping their facilities with sustainable technology, including solar panels.
Health centers taking action to deal with climate change
Despite these challenges, health centers have been actively working to address the effects of climate change. Shasta Community Health Center in California recently installed solar panels on their site and reported a 20% savings on their utility bill. Pueblo Community Health Center in Colorado opened a new energy-efficient site that consumes 50% less energy.
While health centers continue to pursue sustainable strategies, NACHC and its members underscored the need for stronger federal leadership to support broader climate and green initiatives. Importantly, the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act may improve access to various clean energy tax credits for nonprofits, including health centers.
NACHC activities highlight the link between the environment and health
NACHC is also continuing to elevate the conversation about the close connection between the federally mandated services that health centers are required to provide as required by Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act and environmental health services.
In August, we convened our first in-person Environmental Health and Climate Change interest group at the Community Health Institute Conference & EXPO. We are also collaborating with partners, including The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard C-Change) and the Migrant Clinicians Network, on a Learning Collaborative with health centers to co-design clinical interventions based on a “patient-centered climate resilience” concept.
To learn more about our climate and environmental initiatives visit our Environmental Health webpage and join the NACHC Environmental and Climate Change Interest Group. We are actively collecting stories from health centers about their environmental health efforts and welcome you to share them with Jessica Hinshaw, Environmental Health Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.