Here’s to your health!

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) Policy Program has just published a new study entitled A Prescription for the 21st Century: Improving Resilience to High-Impact Weather for Healthcare Facilities and Services. The full report is available at the AMS Policy Program website at www.ametsoc.org/hfs.

Some excerpts from the AMS press release: The purpose of the study was to explore methods for improving the resilience of the health system. The report outlines a process for reducing the structural and operational risks that healthcare facilities often face. The study presents a systematic strategy for improving resilience through a three-step process that first seeks to understand risks, then addresses the vulnerabilities of health facilities, and finally prepares for the continuity of health services in the event of disruptions…

…Healthcare facilities and services provide a key foundation for a thriving community. Therefore, ensuring their resilience to high-impact weather is critical. High-impact weather events present a challenge in that they disrupt health facilities and services and decrease the ability to provide healthcare at a time when a community’s needs increase due to injuries and illness associated with the event. As more communities will emerge in areas vulnerable to high-impact weather, the need will grow for resilient healthcare facilities and services…

According to Dr. Shalini Mohleji, the AMS Policy Fellow who directed the study, “Two of our key findings involve new concepts. First, resilience can be increased through successful risk management, and second, redundant systems promote efficacy, not inefficiency.”

Two brief comments. First, the AMS has been fortunate that for several years now NOAA’s Office of Weather and Air Quality has helped support a series of studies on this topic. What’s more, government agencies and offices are really run by people, and in this case, Mr. John Gaynor, and in recent years, Dr. John Cortinas been the key individuals who have  sustained and guided this work. We owe them and NOAA a special debt of gratitude.

That interest and support has been vital; it is also well-placed. Science continues to show that environment and public health are linked in myriad and complex ways… and that the continuity and quality of healthcare provision can be impacted negatively by weather hazards. The NOAA mission, and services provided by its private-sector collaborators, encompass the full breadth of these concerns — ranging from forecasts of human-health emergencies whether occasioned by pollution episodes or outbreaks of vector-borne disease, or threats to healthcare infrastructure posed by winter storms, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and more. With U.S. healthcare amounting to 18% of GDP, such vulnerability will continue to be part and parcel of the natural disaster narrative. [A recent example: the tornadic storms of the past two days damaged a Mississippi medical center.] It’s in the U.S. interest that both the weather- and healthcare sectors continuously tighten and improve their coordination.

Second, the idea that redundancy and its close neighbor margin are vital to resilience is more broadly applicable than just to the healthcare sector per se. For example, the chain responsible for delivering food from ranch and farm to supermarkets and from there to the consumer’s table is increasingly a zero-margin, just-in-time enterprise. We can expect this theme to re-surface repeatedly, in new contexts.

 

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3 Responses to Here’s to your health!

  1. Inge Bretherton says:

    Hi, How can you leave out the work of the Earth System Sciences Committee (1983-1988). It was established by Shelby Tilford, but consisted mostly of scientists.
    I suggest you read an oral history interview of Shelby Tilford and consult the two
    publications of the Earth Sciences Committee. Inge Bretherton

    • William Hooke says:

      Hi, Inge!

      It is good to hear from you, and especially on this topic. In the years when your husband Francis Bretherton and Shelby Tilford were leading the Earth System Sciences Committee, which served a model for the Global Change Research Program and even the IPCC process, I was in the near-field, along with many other scientists, watching with admiration. Good to be reminded of those times and that ground-breaking work again.

      Inge, I found links for Shelby’s oral history interview: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/NASA_HQ/ESS/TilfordSG/tilfordsg.htm
      but was unable to find links to the ESSC reports themselves. Do you know of a link or links where our readers could find these reports on-line?

      In the meantime, my warmest regards to both you and Francis.

  2. Bill:-
    Finally worked my way through the report. I was left feeling a little like the opening of a Tale of Two Cities.
    “It was the best of reports.” It lays out the case for resilient health care better than anything else I’ve read on the subject (and I’ve read a lot!). Starting out by understanding one’s risks is essential. Accreditation to the Joint Commission standards should be aspired to by all. Hardening structures is sort of a no-brainer, but saying that of course implies that the administration at all of the unhardened facilities are mindless. Which isn’t true, because…

    “It was the worst of reports.” Knowing one’s risks is essential, but I’ve seen too many initiatives fail because they failed to heed the Socratic dictum – “Know thyself” – knowing what resources and capabilities are available, and understanding the entire health care system of which they’re a part. We have to recognize that “resilience” has to compete with lots of other things – administrators know there is no free lunch. Diversifying energy sources sounds fine, but if it requires capital expenditures, where is the money coming from? And, unfortunately, many renewable energy installations simply will not pay for themselves over the tenure of an administrator. A good generator makes much more sense.

    Personally, I believe it’s much more important to assure continuity of care than resilient facilities. After all, if I’m in a hospital continuity of treatment is more important to me than whether or not the building will survive. Harden if you can, sure, but please ensure that you can continue to treat me no matter what.

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