Harvard team unveils climate resilience toolkit for front-line health care clinics

Harvard team unveils climate resilience toolkit for front-line health care clinics

December 7, 2022 : Harvard University public health professional team has launched an initiative to support front-line medical clinics to protect their patients from climate risks.

The Climate Resilience for Frontline Clinics Toolkit project provides clinical guidance and information on how to develop action plans, alert systems, checklists for staff, and tips for patients.

Also included in the toolkit are tailored instructions that aim to protect pregnant patients or those with specific conditions from the impacts of extreme heat.

Among those conditions are asthma, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease, diabetes, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and mental health issues.

“What we hear time and again is that front-line clinics are the glue that hold their communities together when disasters strike,” Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), said in a statement.

“But with limited resources, and an ongoing pandemic, many don’t have the funding, training, or tools they need after a climate shock,” Bernstein added.

Bernstein and his colleagues at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE, therefore, collaborated with the nonprofit Americares — and with funding from Biogen — to help clinics in these communities overcome such shocks.

Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and Americares worked to develop the toolkit with front-line health clinics in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas to maintain patient health “before, during and after climate shocks,” a joint statement from the partners said.

According to the groups, front-line clinics care for millions of the country’s uninsured or underinsured patients.

Yet the researchers stressed that these same clinics are often overwhelmed by intense heat waves and storms, which destroy infrastructure, meddle with supply chains, and cause power outages.

“We know that low-income, uninsured and underinsured populations need more aid after emergencies,” Kristin Stevens, senior director of climate and disaster resilience at Americares, displayed in a statement.

“This need is accelerating as we experience more intense storms, wildfires and extreme weather,” Stevens said.

Work on the climate stability toolkit began in 2021 with a survey of more than 450 clinic staff across 47 U.S. states and territories that demonstrated significant knowledge gaps in patient care during and after climate surprises.

The researchers discovered that 81 percent of clinic staff said their workplace tolerated disruptions due to extreme weather within the past three years.

Nevertheless, they also found that only 20 percent of staff felt that their clinic was “very strong” in the face of extreme weather.

Nearly 77 percent of clinic staff said they lacked the tools to enforce climate change preparedness. In comparison, more than 80 percent desired training to protect their patients during such events, as per the survey.

In the next five years, Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and Americares researchers expressed they plan to expand their project globally by adapting the toolkit for usefulness in at least three low- and middle-income nations.

“We find ourselves in exceptional times in which wildfires may spark and extend overnight,” Jessie Liu, a family medicine doctor at La Clínica de La Raza in Oakland, Calif., expressed in a statement.

“These aids will be useful as a guide for our patients, providers, and clinics to qualify for the increasing wildfire risk for the communities we serve in order to mitigate health impacts,” Liu stated.