4 ways for hospitals to address climate change

Hospital evacuations forced by Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy and a stream of heat wave warnings and other extreme weather events have pushed the healthcare industry to take steps to protect hospitals and health systems from the effects of climate change, Think Progress reported.

"Government and hospitals are really waking up to this," said Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm. "Hurricane Sandy was a huge wake-up call, especially to hospitals on the East Coast."

Strategies to protect hospitals and other healthcare organizations against climate-related emergencies include:

1. Future-proofing
Preparing new buildings for climate change is cost-effective, according to Think Progress. Boston's Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was climate-proofed for about a half percent of building costs. Its future-proofing measures involved raising its ground floor 30 inches above the current 500-year flood level and 42 inches above the 100-year flood level.

The 132-bed teaching hospital also stored its electrical equipment on the roof for flood resistance, the article noted.

2. Energy conservation
Hospitals can use cogeneration to capture heat from the energy process and convert it into more energy. This fundamental climate strategy, which can save a building up to 35 percent on energy costs, also enabled hospitals to stay open during Hurricane Sandy, according to Think Progress.

To dramatically reduce its energy use, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital has triple-glazed windows instead of using perimeter heating in hospital rooms, the article noted.

3. Rebuilding
While updating old hospitals can prove more challenging than future-proofing new buildings, hospital rebuilding is vital to protecting New York City from climate change.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants new and existing hospitals in the city to meet certain criteria for high level of flood resistance and backup power capacity to better prepare for extreme weather. His $20 billion plan developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy calls for retrofitting existing hospitals in the 500-year flood plain and encouraging telecommunications resiliency and electronic record keeping, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

4. Commitment
To implement climate strategies, hospitals need staff and leadership support. Executive-level commitment can secure resources for sustainability activities, remove institutional barriers and oversee the activities.

Maryland's Bon Secours' St. Francis Medical Center, for instance, established a new energy task force and a communication campaign for employees and leadership, and as a result reduced energy use by more than 20 percent, earned $150,000 in energy rebates and achieved $850,000 in cost savings.

For more:
- here's the Think Progress article