Photo by: Pixabay user jose esqueda

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Study Identifies Hundreds of Hospitals on Atlantic and Gulf Coasts at Risk of Flooding from Hurricanes

09/29/2022 | Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

Climate change expected to increase hospital flooding risk by 22% this century

Boston, MA – The first study to systematically investigate flooding risk to hospitals on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from Category 1-4 storms finds that even relatively weak storms pose a serious flood risk to hospitals along the coast. Sea level rise expected in this century due to the effects of climate change increases the odds of hospital flooding by 22% according to a study, which was published today in the AGU journal GeoHealth by the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, and PSE Healthy Energy.

“We now have a better sense of which hospitals are likely to flood from a hurricane today and those that need to prepare for greater risks in the future,” said senior author Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Interim Director of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE. “Hurricanes are expected to get more severe and may strike regions further north than in the past due to climate change. In places like my hometown of Boston, we can avoid crises that other hospitals have had to endure by learning from their experience and creating plans that build on best practices. But we must act now, before disaster strikes.”

Researchers identified 682 acute care hospitals in 78 metropolitan statistical areas located within 10 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States, covering a population just under 85 million people, or about 1 in 4 Americans. They found that 25 of the 78 metro areas studied have half or more of their hospitals at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm.

The 10 metro areas where a Category 2 hurricane threatens access to hospital care most are:

  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
  • Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
  • New Orleans-Metairie, LA
  • Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
  • North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

The modeling shows that with sea level rise expected this century, the Baton Rouge, Virginia Beach, Corpus Christi, Philadelphia, and Boston metro areas have over 90% increases in the number of beds at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm.

Recent storms have devastated hospital infrastructure. This study finds that even if hospital buildings may not be flooded the roads around them may be, restricting or preventing access to care. In 18 metro areas, at least half of the roads within one mile of hospitals were at risk of flooding from a Category 2 storm. Flooded roads have often been a major challenge to emergent patient transfer during hurricanes as well as patient and staff access to hospitals well after storms have passed.

The Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care Center built in 2016, which replaced the VA Hospital and Charity Hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, provides a model for how coastal hospitals and health systems can improve their resilience to hurricanes, according to the study authors. It was designed to remain operational for seven days even if city utilities and infrastructure are compromised and features back-up fuel supplies, on-site sewage treatment facilities, and sufficient accommodations for up to 1,000 staff and patients to shelter in place. Critical mechanical and electrical equipment as well as patient care areas are located at least 20 feet above the 100-year floodplain.

This study is part of Harvard Chan C-CHANGE’s Climate MD program, which helps identify, support, and prepare health care workers to address climate-related impacts on health and health care delivery. The program helps health care providers buffer risks to the patients they serve, protect people most at risk from the climate crisis, and advance health equity.

About Harvard Chan C-CHANGE

The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE) increases public awareness of the health impacts of climate change and uses science to make it personal, actionable, and urgent. Led by Dr. Aaron Bernstein, the Center leverages Harvard’s cutting-edge research to inform policies, technologies, and products that reduce air pollution and other causes of climate change. By making climate change personal, highlighting solutions, and emphasizing the important role we all play in driving change, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE puts health outcomes at the center of climate actions. To learn more visit https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/.

 

'We Don't Have To Live This Way': Doctors Call For Climate Action

A sprawling analysis published by The Lancet focuses on public health data from 2019, and finds that heat waves, air pollution and extreme weather increasingly damage human health.

Read Now

Challenges and opportunities to sustainably scale up surgical, obstetric, and anaesthesia care globally

Strategies for the surgical, obstetric, and anaesthesia community to sustainably scale up SOA care to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address health equity and social justice issues.

Read Now

A pathway to net zero emissions for healthcare

Dr. Renee Salas charts a path to net zero emissions for healthcare.

Read Now

The first residency curriculum to better prepare doctors for climate change

New framework can teach medical residents how climate changes affects health, clinical care, and health care delivery.

Read Now

The climate crisis and COVID-19—A major threat to the pandemic response

Strategies for local communities and states to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during climate-related extreme events like heat waves, hurricanes, and wildfires.

Read Now

Climate Change and Cancer

Climate actions can make cancer treatment facilities more resilient and improve cancer outcomes.

Read Now

The climate crisis and clinical practice

Read Now

Creating a ‘climate-ready’ health care workforce

With disasters related to climate change increasing, it’s crucial that the health care workforce be “climate-ready,” according to Aaron Bernstein.

Read Now

Challenges and opportunities to sustainably scale up surgical, obstetric, and anaesthesia care globally

Strategies for the surgical, obstetric, and anaesthesia community to sustainably scale up SOA care to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address health equity and social justice issues.

Read Now

A pathway to net zero emissions for healthcare

Dr. Renee Salas charts a path to net zero emissions for healthcare.

Read Now

Medical Residents To Receive Education On Health Effects Of Climate Change

The first published guideline offers a way for medical residents to learn about the health effects of climate change.

Read Now

Medical Residents Learn To Treat The Growing Health Hazards Of Climate Change

Doctors say that climate education should continue during residency, when doctors tailor what they’ve learned to a specialty.

Read Now

The Surprising Ways Climate Change Is Already Affecting Our Health

The health impacts of climate change are like an iceberg—many connections are hiding underneath the surface.

Read Now

Teaching Doctors In Training To Connect Climate Change And Health Care

Doctors say that climate education should continue during residency, when doctors tailor what they’ve learned to a specialty.

Read Now

Study: Regional transportation pact could save more than 1,000 lives

A regional initiative among 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states aimed at reducing carbon emissions from transportation could help avoid about 1,100 deaths and nearly 5,000 asthma cases each year, and could save more than $11 billion in health costs, according to a new analysis.

Read Now

Doctors Push For Health Care To Address Climate Change In New Teaching Framework

A group of doctors created a new education framework to teach medical residents how to address climate change with their patients.

Read Now

Doctors Call For More Training to Respond to Climate Change

A team of medical professionals hopes to prepare future doctors with a new climate and health curriculum.

Read Now