December 15, 2023

Climate change is already affecting our health

The health care industry is responsible for 8% to 10% of harmful emissions in the United States.

Lisa Romero, senior community health specialist for Kaiser Permanente, presented at the Hot Issues in Health conference.

As global temperatures continue to rise, the effects of climate change are threatening people’s health and quality of life.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in wildfires, flooding, drought, and extreme heat conditions. These extreme conditions affect the health of people and our communities. Climate change is a factor in extreme heat that can cause heat stroke and dehydration, increased rates of infectious diseases, air pollution and wildfires that can worsen respiratory illnesses, and extreme weather events that can cause both physical and psychological injuries.

We believe it is our obligation as a health care provider to minimize our environmental impact — and this is reflected in how we power our facilities, purchase food and medical supplies and equipment, manage waste, and invest in our communities.

In 2023, Kaiser Permanente in Colorado was honored by the Colorado Green Business Network for our dedication to sustainability across multiple aspects of our operations, from using energy and water to promoting community health and climate resilience. The Colorado Green Business Network is a voluntary program that encourages, supports, and rewards organizations that make the move toward the goal of true, operational sustainability. We also prioritize partnerships with others to develop policies and systems that strengthen community health and protect our environment.

In partnership with the Colorado Health Institute, we recently identified recommendations for health systems and philanthropic organizations to support, lead, and advance solutions to help reduce the health impacts of climate change on our communities.

“Climate change is already taking a toll on Coloradans' physical and mental health. We all need to work together to prepare our communities and protect Coloradans — especially those who are most vulnerable,” said Sara Schmitt, president and CEO, Colorado Health Institute.

The final report — Advancing Climate Resilience for Community Health — highlights 3-key takeaways from this work.

  1. Climate change is already affecting people’s health and worsening existing inequities. Health care systems and philanthropic organizations have the influence and resources to help Coloradans adapt and become more resilient.
  2. Health care systems are committed to advancing community health and they employ one of the most trusted workforces. They are also significant contributors to global carbon emissions. As such, health care systems have an opportunity and responsibility to take a leadership role in addressing climate change.
  3. Health care systems and philanthropic groups can make a difference in several key areas: education, advocacy and leadership, community health initiatives, data and research, and assessment.

Lisa Romero, MPH, senior community health specialist, Kaiser Permanente, recently attended and participated on a discussion panel with other experts at the Hot Issues in Health conference, organized by the Colorado Health Institute.

The panelists highlighted many of the environmental concerns that directly affect our health. Romero also highlighted the ways Kaiser Permanente, the largest nonprofit health care organization in Colorado, is reducing our environmental impact and supporting community-led efforts to build climate resiliency.

“Partnering with Lisa and a health care system like Kaiser Permanente has been a great asset to Acclimate Colorado’s work. Their influence with health care partners and philanthropic organizations will go a long way toward improving the health of all Coloradans,” said Karam Ahmad, director, Colorado Health Institute.

After participating at the conference Romero observed increasing interest and engagement from multiple sectors about building climate resilience in our communities. “It was great to see a wide variety of individuals and organizations interested in climate resiliency work. Understanding the connections between climate and health is essential, and we all have an important role to play in protecting our health in the face of environmental hazards.”