Building climate resilient health care and communities

April 8, 2024 Providence Environmental Stewardship


In this article:

  • Climate resilience means preparing for, responding to and recovering from the impacts of climate change in our communities.

  • Providence is focusing on climate resilience in its clinical care and operations, critical infrastructure and community connections.

  • By collaborating across the health system, Providence is working to improve the health of communities as we all strive to support the health of the planet.

Keeping our communities healthy also means keeping our planet healthy. That means the need to focus on climate resiliency, or the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of climate change. The impacts of climate change include acute climate shocks, like wildfires and extreme heat, and chronic climate stressors, such as air pollution and hotter summers, which we are already witnessing in the communities we serve. Providence is focused on resilience because climate emergencies can quickly turn into health emergencies with lasting impacts on the wellbeing of the communities we serve.

Providence is focusing on three areas of climate resilience:

  • Clinical care and operations: Preparing caregivers to continue to deliver excellent care in the face of climate change and with changing patient needs.
  • Critical infrastructure: Ensuring health care facilities remain open and safe to deliver care in times of extreme weather.
  • Community connections: Advancing collaborative partnerships that support the needs of those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and extreme weather events.

“There is so much to do, and in order to transform to meet the changing needs of our communities, we have to partner and collaborate,” says Cassie Tinari, executive director, social responsibility for Providence. “Like our climate mitigation work, it’s going to take us all to respond to the very real, present impact of the changing climate.”

Clinical care and operations

Climate change preparedness (including giving caregivers clear guidance on how to educate patients) can help patients and the community become more resilient since climate change can cause specific impacts on health. For example, when communities experience extreme climate, like high heat or poor air quality, caregivers see health trends like:

  • Challenges managing COPD, heart disease and other chronic conditions.
  • Higher patient volumes in emergency departments.
  • Increased risk of dehydration and heat stroke.

Providence is committed to providing caregivers the resources they need to understand how climate impacts their at-risk patients so they can best support their health needs. For instance, during the smoke season on the West Coast, caregivers can speak with their patients about steps they can take to limit health problems, like installing air filters and limiting time outdoors.

“We will continue to see impacts of climate on our caregivers and our facilities, so starting these conversations now will better prepare us for the future,” says Amy Herold, MD, chief medical officer,  Providence's Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, CA. “Building resilience today will lower our risk and ensure we can continue to serve our communities to serve our communities as we have done for over 150 years.”

Critical infrastructure

Infrastructure resilience means ensuring Providence facilities remain open and safe from chronic climate stressors and acute climate shocks. Enhancing infrastructure resilience includes expanding capacity for cooling and ventilation in our power plants so that we can maintain safe spaces during heat and smoke events.

If patients experience a health event during a climate emergency, they need to know they’ll be safe where they receive care. Closing facilities poses a huge, immediate risk to patients and the community. Further, if a hospital limits services, even temporarily, it may require relocating patients already receiving care, which is an enormous disruption.

Before the 2021 heat dome that impacted the Pacific Northwest, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center had completed several important measures that helped them stay open. That included upgrading windows to reduce energy loss and curb carbon emissions, which helped the building to stay in a safe temperature range while outdoor temperatures peaked at 116 degrees across several days.

“Health care providers are a trusted entity in the community,” says Andy Mason, director of facilities, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR. “Investing in resilience will allow us to continue to be a community anchor when faced with extreme climate emergencies today and well into the future.”

Community connections

Health equity is an important aspect of our response to climate change since the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by communities with fewer resources or have been historically disadvantaged. People in these communities often live in urban heat zones or neighborhoods that have less tree cover and green space. Those disproportionately impacted by climate change may also work in weather-exposed professions like construction or agriculture.

Providence is working to address these disparities by educating caregivers who serve these populations. As a health system, it is also partnering with dozens of community organizations to support members of these communities, so they remain safe and healthy during climate events and don’t suffer health emergencies from extreme heat, smoke or other dangerous weather.

“Our Climate Resilience Plan calls us to assess and address the needs in the communities we serve,” says Anna Franklin, executive director of health equity and environmental stewardship in Providence’s Central Division. “That way, we can support these populations when facing extreme climate events to protect health and to prevent harm.”

Contributing caregivers

Cassie Tinari, executive director, social responsibility for Providence

Amy Herold, M.D., chief medical officer, Northern California service area

Andy Mason, director of facilities, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center

Anna Franklin, executive director of health equity and environmental stewardship, Central Division

Find a doctor

If you are looking for a physician, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory.

Download the Providence app

We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.

Related resources

Environmental Stewardship at Providence: 2023 Year in Review

Streamlining supplies: How Providence is avoiding waste in health care

Sustainable plates: How Providence is curbing food waste

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

Previous Article
Curbing carbon emissions with efficient and renewable energy
Curbing carbon emissions with efficient and renewable energy

Hospitals use a lot of energy. Providence is finding ways to cut that use with efficient, renewable alterna...

Next Article
Sustainable plates: How Providence is curbing food waste
Sustainable plates: How Providence is curbing food waste

From low-waste recipes to new ways to use old ingredients, Providence is cutting back on the food waste it’...