"Climate change is the greatest public health threat we have."
That's what Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, told Modern Healthcare last April. And that the thing that keeps him up at night is the next infectious disease that we don't see coming.
Okay, so what's climate change have to do with infectious diseases? Or healthcare facility design?
Environmental Changes Can Spread Infectious Diseases
According to the World Health Organization, there are many connections between climate change and infectious diseases -- including ocean warming causing toxic algae blooms resulting in red tides and elevated precipitation that creates pools for mosquito breeding that can lead to the spread of viruses.
For those who don't believe climate change is real, a report written by scientists from 13 U.S. government agencies released this past Monday stated, “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans."
"Thousands of studies conducted by tens of thousands of scientists around the world have documented changes in surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; rising sea level; and an increase in atmospheric water vapor. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes.”
If you're still not convinced, go see Al Gore's new movie, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power." Whether you like the former U.S. Vice President or not, the images in this film of melting ice caps and glaciers are believable -- and unforgettable.
Healthcare Facility Design & Climate Change
Without a doubt, the organization that has had the most impact on the global healthcare industry's response to climate change is Health Care Without Harm.
Since 1996, (HCWH has been working with healthcare organizations around the world to reduce their impact on the environment. One of its early accomplishments was the closing of more than 4,500 medical waste incinerators in the U.S.
HCWH's Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC), published in 2008, became the catalyst and foundation for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Healthcare. Over 265 major healthcare projects, representing over 40 million square feet of healthcare construction, have adopted the GGHC as their framework for design and construction.
Its current vision for healthcare facility design is one that "moves beyond doing 'less harm' – ie, reducing negative impacts from the design and operation of health care – to a future where the built environment 'heals' or restores ecological and social capital."
In other words, the idea that healthcare facilities can be restorative, regenerative, and resilient.
Now more than ever, the healthcare industry needs to embrace these concepts for their building projects. There's no good reason not to.
Check out these resources:
"Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, Second Edition," by Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori.
Resilient Design Institute, nonprofit organization whose mission is to create solutions that enable buildings and communities to survive and thrive in the face of climate change, natural disasters, and other disruptions.
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