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Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics

06/22/2022 | Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

Thousands of community health centers and free clinics across the U.S. care for millions of our nation’s uninsured or underinsured patients. Yet, more intense heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires, and other worsening events from climate change threaten their ability to provide care and keep their patients healthy.

We’re working with Americares to help protect people on the frontlines of climate change with the Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics project. Biogen is a founding donor as part of their commitment to advancing climate, health, and equity.

The three-year effort began with a groundbreaking survey of over 450 clinic staff from 47 U.S. states and territories to identify knowledge gaps and real-world challenges of caring for patients during and after climate shocks. From that data, we learned that:

  • 81% of clinic staff said their clinic experienced some kind of disruption due to extreme weather within the past three years
  • Fewer than 20% of clinic staff feel their clinic is “very resilient” in the face of extreme weather
  • 77% of clinic staff say they do not have the knowledge or tools to implement climate change preparedness at their clinic
  • More than 80% want education and training to protect their patients from climate-related events.

What we’re doing

  • Using survey data to create tailored resources for health care providers, staff, and patients on extreme heat, wildfires, and hurricanes
  • Working with clinicians and staff in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas to provide plans, resources, and trainings to improve health and care delivery so that a person with a chronic medical condition, like kidney disease or diabetes, continues to receive the care they need when a heatwave or a major storm makes a clinic hard to reach
  • Expanding across the U.S. to ensure that more clinics providing free or low-cost health care to uninsured or underinsured patients – such as primary, behavioral, emergency, maternity, and specialty care – are ​​better equipped to manage care and protect patients from climate risks

Read our press release announcing the project

Extreme Heat Resources

We are providing guidance on extreme heat for clinics to share with their patients, health care providers, and staff on:

  • How to keep patients safe in the heat, especially for those with chronic kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, diabetes, COPD, and asthma.
  • How providers can make a “Heat Action Plan” for their patients, access weather alerts from the National Weather Service, and protect their patients with existing medical conditions during extreme heat.
  • How clinic administrators and staff can build climate change resilience and sustainability, including how to develop a “Heat Alert Plan” and power outage response guide, as well as immediate and year-round checklists and facility preparedness plans. 

Check out the full list of heat resources.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein

Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH

Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.

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Chelsea Heberlein

Chelsea Heberlein

Chelsea works with frontline health clinics, researchers, and collaborating organizations to put patients at the center of climate resilience.

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Anna Miller

Anna helps develop and execute communications plans to promote awareness about the health impacts of climate change on children.

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Liz Purchia

Liz manages communications planning and media relations for Harvard Chan C-CHANGE.

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