Editor’s Note: This post is the first of NACHC’s three-part series highlighting health center readiness in response to the upcoming hurricane season.
With hurricane season here Florida is bracing for the worst. The state ranks sixth in the country for most weather-related power outages over the past 20 years. Powering through weather-related disasters carries far-reaching public health considerations. Health centers must be able to keep their doors open to respond to local health needs after catastrophic weather events. That is why the Florida Association of Community Health Centers (FACHC) assessed which sites have emergency power sources and found that over half, nearly 60 percent of 800 health center sites, do not have a back-up power system on site.
Of those who reported having a backup system on-site, only one reported using solar and battery storage. Most health center (84%) organizations in Florida report a desire to expand emergency power sources across their sites, but there are challenges — maintenance costs, facility structure and age, location vulnerability, and limited knowledge as some of the main barriers to installing backup power systems.
Through Direct Relief’s Power for Health Initiative, up to 15 health center sites have the opportunity to continue in the solar and storage installation process from grant funding that covers 100% of the costs of the process. This type of grant support is rare, and other health centers will need to be able to access financing to support their installations.
Paying for Power Sources
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome the financial barriers to installing power options. The CHARGE partnership (Community Health Access to Reliable Green Energy) offers education, assessment, installation, and financing options for health centers. A collaboration between NACHC, Capital Link, and Collective Energy, CHARGE’s goal is to make resilient, reliable energy easy and affordable for health centers so that health centers can prioritize patient health. CHARGE can also help health centers navigate the many different solar incentives out there right now, such as the Inflation Reduction Act’s Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
Climate resilience is now an important part of public health but it also makes fiscal sense for health centers, which typically operate on shoe-string budgets. Some health centers report losses of up to $300,000 per day, with an average of $41,000 in losses per day when there‘s a power outage. A portion of these costs are vaccines and medications that require refrigeration.
Helping health centers in hurricane prone areas is the focus of the Biden Administration. This week the Department of Health and Human Services announced $65 million in funding to ensure people have access to care at health centers when disaster strikes. The funding can be used for new construction, renovations and infrastructure repairs at health centers in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico to prevent flooding, upgrade emergency generators, and improve communication and mechanical systems ahead of future disasters.
“Through hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, health centers keep their doors open and are a lifeline to services for patients and their communities. This funding helps make that possible,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson in a press release. “We are making this funding available to make sure health centers can respond in an emergency and continue to be cornerstones in their communities when they are needed most.”
Thinking About Taking Action?
If you want to learn more about how climate change impacts patient health or the importance of resiliency energy systems at your health center, please check out our resources and contact the Environmental Health Team at NACHC for more information!