A year after Sandy, what have we learned? At a community health level, we learned that the loss of 15 percent of the total bed capacity in New York City, alongside 5000 nursing home beds, tested the limits of the regional health care system for weeks and months beyond the event itself.
In the age of climate change, our cities must be able to provide critical health care services and important public health infrastructure in times of need. We must design our critical infrastructure services so they can withstand grid failure, flooding and other consequences of climate change. We also need to integrate resiliency with sustainability concerns, since we are learning that a host of sustainable design and operations strategies can also dramatically improve the resilience of the healthcare sector.
The health care sector represents almost 20 percent of the entire US economy. It should lead by example and become the early adopters of technologies and practices that mitigate their own substantial climate footprint and support the transition to a renewable energy economy. We know that climate change is bringing increased health impacts along with it — asthma, dengue fever, heat stroke and waterborne diseases — so health care also has a mission-related imperative to address its own contribution to our nation’s fossil fuel addiction. The health care sector will be on the front lines of treating the uptick in these health problems.