Member Highlight - National Association of County & City Health Officials

Friday, September 2, 2016

How does climate change impact the healthcare and public health sectors? 

NACCHO’s Climate Change Workgroup is a prime example of public health officials coming together to seek viable solutions and share resources about this critical issue. At the group’s most recent May 2016 meeting in Washington, D.C., members heard updates on climate and health science by federal experts; examined several local case studies; and discussed future strategies to develop, implement, and sustain local climate change activities. Suggestions included:

•Enhancing community awareness by strengthening alliances with private healthcare professionals;

•Improving communications between public health practitioners and climate scientists; and

•Enhancing partnerships by leveraging new networks and relationships. 

Local health departments work closely with other government agencies, local businesses, and community partners to address the impact that a changing climate has on health and to develop and implement solutions that keep people healthy and safe. Recognizing the breadth of partnerships needed for a comprehensive plan moving forward, improved communication, and engagement between public health and healthcare sectors is important in providing coordinated services to the communities they serve. For example local health departments train healthcare providers on health aspects of climate change and provide strategic guidance to healthcare facilities as they plan for surges in healthcare service provision following extreme weather events.


What are the biggest challenges local health departments face in addressing climate change?

Local health departments play a vital role in helping communities prepare for and address the health effects of climate change. In 2012, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication conducted a study to gain a greater understanding of public health preparedness for climate change at the local level. NACCHO published the findings in the report Are We Ready? Report 2: Preparing for the Public Health Challenges of Climate Change, available here. Perceptions of local health department capacity vary based on geographic region and budget limitations. Northeastern local health department directors were more likely than Western, Midwestern, or Southern local health department directors to believe that their jurisdictions would experience climate change and its related public health impacts over the next two decades. Consequently, climate change adaptation was more of a priority for Northeastern and Western local health department directors than for those in the Midwest or Southern regions. Local health department directors with large budgets ($5 million or more per year), were more likely than directors of local health departments with mid-sized budgets (between $1 million and $5 million per year) or small budgets (less than $1 million per year) to believe that their jurisdictions had experienced climate change or would experience climate change over the next 20 years. Geographic differences will result in varying climate-related health conditions, and local health departments work to identify those effects specific to their community. For example, coastal communities are particularly sensitive to sea-level rise, which may lead to increased flooding; while, arid communities are particularly sensitive to coping with the health impacts of drought. For more information about NACCHO’s efforts, please visit this webpage


What policies (state or federal) would help local health departments better address climate change?

Local health departments, in partnership with state and federal public health agencies, must immediately prepare for the impacts of climate change on public health. NACCHO encourages health departments to promote and participate in mitigation efforts, which may include (1) the incorporation of adaptation planning into land use, housing, and transportation design; (2) preparing communities for extreme weather events and natural disasters; and (3) coordinating with local governments on all-hazards disaster planning. Local health departments should aim to prepare communities to adapt to a changing climate. For more information, review NACCHO’s policy statement on climate change at this webpage