This article is part of an expanded online version of “When Disaster Strikes,” a special report on designing for resiliency and disaster preparedness that was first published in the March 2019 issue of Healthcare Design

Healthcare organizations are affected by natural disasters on two fronts. The most obvious is their position as first responders in times of crisis, offering care during and after an emergency. However, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are also just as vulnerable to the structural damage that a major storm or wildfire might cause, potentially forcing a provider to cease operations, which then could threaten already tight margins as well as the local economy.

This issue is explored in a January 2018 white paper from Health Care Without Harm in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services LLC. The report, “Safe Haven in the Storm: Protecting Lives and Margins with Climate-smart Health Care,” outlines key strategies that healthcare organizations might explore to capture the benefits of resiliency and rebound more quickly in a crisis.

  1. Manage extreme weather risks
    Forecasts and predictive models can help healthcare organizations consider how changes to climate, extreme weather, and the resulting impacts of each of those things might affect their buildings and the populations they serve. “Large health systems with multiple campuses should conduct both individual site-level assessments to understand risk variations across the portfolio and a network assessment that considers interdependencies across the system,” the report reads. Once potential risks are identified, the likelihood of each risk affecting business and to what extent should be assessed. Finally, the paper suggests executing a risk-avoidance plan, such as building new facilities away from areas at high risk for flooding.
  2. Reduce emissions
    Health Care Without Harm contends that extreme weather events will continue until greenhouse gas emissions contributing to them are limited. To that end, the paper recommends that healthcare organizationsstart by measuring baselines, setting clear reduction targets, and mobilizing resources from across the organization to implement changes in energy operations, building design and operations, transportation, waste management, and supply chain.” Measures might include on-site strategies such as energy efficiency and renewable energy or off-site solutions such as power purchase agreements or helping to strengthen public transportation.
  3. Invest in community health and resilience
    The ability for any healthcare organization to withstand a disaster depends on what happens in the surrounding community. Indicators of community resiliency used to measure preparedness, as defined by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, include numbers of paramedics and hospitals, hazard planning in schools, and social cohesion. “True leadership requires partnering with other local and regional players to build community health and resiliency,” the paper reads. In this framework, access to healthy food, quality housing, and public transportation go a long way in building a healthier base and communities that can heal faster after a disaster.
  4. Lead on policy
    Federal, regional, state, and municipal actions largely determine what changes can happen at an institutional level, meaning public policy can make or break healthcare organizations’ opportunities for climate-responsive infrastructure changes. Additionally, public utility departments and energy grid rules dictate energy options available. To that end, the paper encourages providers to connect the dots for policy-makers between climate-conscious policies, public health, and medical cost containment. Healthcare leaders in some states have seen success by using private meetings, public hearings, and op-eds in local newspapers to educate governmental decision-makers and influence policy change.

To read the full white paper, visit—Jennifer Kovacs Silvis

To read the full special report, “When Disaster Strikes,” go here