Opinion: To manage extreme heat events, health care providers need support

November 7, 2023 – With heat waves taking an increasingly devastating toll, particularly on vulnerable communities, health care providers need resources to help keep people safe.

That’s the message in an October 31 opinion piece in STAT co-authored by Caleb Dresser, director of health solutions at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), and Julie Varughese, senior vice president of programs and chief medical officer at Americares. Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and Americares have been collaborating to understand exactly what resources are needed to help providers and patients prepare for and stay safe through extreme heat as well as other dangerous climate events, including wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. In surveys of staff members at clinics across the U.S., they’ve found that a high percentage of providers want practical tools to help them recognize, prevent, and treat climate-related illness, as well as easy-to-understand educational materials for patients.

In 2022, C-CHANGE and Americares created a toolkit, with support from Biogen, to help providers and patients prepare for extreme climate events. More recently, with support from Johnson & Johnson, they began working with pilot clinics in Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana to co-develop an assessment tool aimed at creating customized heat action plans that include care beyond the exam room, such as connecting patients with cooling centers or with programs that make air conditioning more affordable, or helping ensure that patients receive wellness checks during dangerous heat.

“Climate change is causing unprecedented weather events across the United States and the world, and we will continue to encounter record-breaking heat, intensifying wildfires and hurricanes, and historic levels of flooding,” the co-authors wrote. “It’s a reality we cannot shy away from.”

Read the STAT opinion piece: Health care providers need help to treat patients during extreme heat events

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Keeping people safe from extreme heat (Harvard Chan School news)