The theme of this year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting in Atlanta is “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health.” The meeting is estimated to have drawn 12,000 attendees. Below are highlights so far.
Threats and opportunities.
Monday night, Howard Frumkin, DrPH, MPH, MD, of the University of Washington, called climate change “one of the most pressing public health issues we face.” In discussing the recently released Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change 2017 Report: U.S. Briefing, a joint publication of the Lancet and APHA that highlights the threats and opportunities climate change poses to Americans, Frumkin identified some key findings:
- Exposure to dangerous heat and severe weather events is increasing.
- Exposure to disease and allergies is changing (one example: allergy seasons are often prolonged).
- The carbon intensity of U.S. energy use is decreasing, but this process must be accelerated to reduce climate-related health risks.
Nurse voices in environmental health.
During a session called “Public Health Nursing Research—Climate, Health, and Vulnerable Populations,” Linda A. McCauley, PhD, RN, FAAN, of Emory University, highlighted the vital role nurses play both in producing research findings about environmental hazards and human health and in translating these into practice.
“Nurses can go to the science and take it back to the community. That’s what we’re so good at.”
But when it comes to speaking out about environmental issues and nursing research, she observed, “I don’t think we’ve harnessed our voice yet. We talk to each other but don’t talk out enough.” In addition to conducting research and disseminating this information to patients and the community, said McCauley, nurses can get involved in the following areas:
- coalition building
- community organizing
- health teaching
- policy work
“I am convinced nurses are the best communicators, and we need to own that,” McCauley concluded.
How any facility can implement climate-smart efforts.
In response to an audience member’s question about how small, rural hospitals can implement “climate-smart” and resilient efforts in the absence of funding or support, Jeffrey Thompson of Gundersen Health System offered three recommendations:
- Find the people in your facility who are interested in environmental and health issues. “They are there,” he said, and recommended that nurses and physicians publicize their interest in this type of work to discover who else in the organization is also interested.
- Visit the Practice Greenhealth website. This nonprofit, membership organization offers environmental solutions for health care providers and organizations. The Tools & Resources page includes a Greenhealth Tracker to help facilities manage their waste, an Energy Impact Calculator, and a Listserv Information Exchange for health care environmental program colleagues to share information and experiences.
- Look within your community for individuals and organizations with similar interests and partner with them. Such community partnerships, he noted, can help health care providers “gain traction” in their environmental efforts.
A good first step for health care facilities.
Thompson also said a good first step is the creation of recycling and hazardous waste programs, which he said often pay for themselves. “It’s absolutely possible to do this,” he asserted.