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HHS Combats Climate Change with New Programs, Reducing Emissions & Tackling Extreme Heat

HHS Combats Climate Change with New Programs, Reducing Emissions & Tackling Extreme Heat

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Highlights include resources to help health systems decarbonize and a new heat forecasting system

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is marking Earth Day by introducing new programming to help the health sector reduce its significant carbon footprint and increase utilization of the historic opportunities for investments in resilience and sustainability created by the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It is also releasing tools to help the country prepare for the climate-related challenges brought on by the summer season, especially extreme heat.

The catastrophic and chronic risks to health posed by climate change are growing,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra. “We’re ramping up our efforts to make sure that the health sector is prepared for the threats that the summer will bring to communities, workers and families while also deepening its own sustainability through the billions of dollars in available tax credits, grants and other supports introduced by the IRA.

Notable announcements from today that relate to decarbonizing the health sector while enhancing resilience and sustainability include:

  • An expansion of HHS collaboration with England’s National Health Service (NHS) to document overlaps in national procurement standards for health sector suppliers, particularly with respect to carbon emissions disclosures and target setting. This effort – which acknowledges the large contribution of the supply chain to the health sector’s overall emissions while also trying to streamline supplier requirements – will now include the Australian Government, Health Services Executive (HSE) Ireland and The Norwegian Hospital Procurement Trust. Other nations’ health systems, including the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, will join discussions on this collaborative effort in the coming months, as well.
  • The announcement of a second phase of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) Catalytic Program on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to help health care providers and especially safety net organizations take advantage of the IRA’s historic tax credits, grants and other supports that enable investments in clean energy, building efficiency and more. This will include monthly webinar updates on new IRA announcements, as well as forthcoming recorded content and case examples that states, associations and other groups can use to support adoption of relevant IRA programs.
  • The release of a guide for health care providers on understanding and documenting their Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., indirect emissions associated with the organization’s value chain).

These announcements come close on the heels of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center announcing a voluntary Decarbonization and Resilience Initiative to address threats posed by climate change to the nation’s health and healthcare system. This proposed initiative would support participating organizations in monitoring, assessing, and addressing hospital carbon emissions and their effects on health outcomes, costs, and quality as part of the proposed Transforming Episode Accountability Model (TEAM). This information was released as part of the CMS Inpatient Prospective Payment System notice of proposed rulemaking on April 10th and is open for comment for 60 days.

Climate Change is rapidly changing the world we live in, widening health inequities and deepening disparities experienced by vulnerable communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine. “We continue to prioritize work on climate health, accelerating decarbonization of the health care system, advancing environmental justice and introducing preparedness resources to strengthen local responses to climate-related challenges.

Related Article: Biden-Harris Invests $40 Million Initiative to Train Clean Energy Workforce

Notable tools to address extreme heat from HHS and other federal Departments released include:

  • The HeatRisk tool from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with NOAA’s National Weather Service, which provides a 7-day heat forecast nationwide that tells you when temperatures may reach levels that could harm your health. Pulling data from the HeatRisk tool, CDC developed a HeatRisk dashboard, a consumer-friendly product where people can enter their zip code and get personalized heat forecast information for their location, including information on local air quality, alongside protective actions to take.
  • Clinical Guidance on Heat and Health from CDC, developed for clinicians, which takes a patient-centered approach to finding the best ways to keep at-risk individuals, including children with asthma, pregnant women, and people with cardiovascular disease, safe when temperatures rise. These materials also feature consumer-friendly resources so the public can take action to keep themselves safe from heat. This resource complements OCCHE’s Protecting Vulnerable Patient Populations from Climate Hazards, a 2023 tool that offers providers clinical guidance to address a broader set of climate-related risks, including wildfire smoke and high-powered storms.
  • An updated version of the EMS HeatTracker , launched last year by the HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which tracks Emergency Medical Services responses to heat-related emergencies. This tracker helps public health officials ensure that outreach and medical aid reach the people who need it most and help decision-makers prioritize community resilience investments.

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