Released on Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a draft plan to address environmental health concerns is very similar to its environmental justice strategy outlined in 1995, but with an added focus on climate change and communities most affected by extreme weather.
The Department seeks public opinion on whether its stated strategy adequately addresses key environmental issues. Experts say HHS needs to focus on addressing the industry’s own carbon footprint and waste, as well as occupational health hazards.
Here are five takeaways from the draft:
1. Scarce details about funding
Funding for the initiative is not allocated, and the size of the bank largely determines its effectiveness.
World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, climate-related health problems will cost between $2 billion and $4 billion a year. xx Historically marginalized communities will bear the brunt of these health problems, as they will suffer with xx, as will other environmental issues such as access to clean water and exposure to toxic waste.
HHS says it will forge community-based partnerships and work with local and state health departments to reduce disparities between federally funded social service programs. The Department also plans to provide funding for refrigeration and electricity stipends in areas disproportionately affected by extreme weather events.
In 2021, funding for research to better understand the impact of climate change on health at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased by $200 million compared to last year. The American Jobs Plan has invested $1.5 billion in public health funding, some of which will go towards building climate resilience.
2. New emphasis on racial and economic differences
A new component of the HHS Environmental Justice Plan focuses on racial and economic differences and serving communities disproportionately affected by environmental health issues.
HHS plans to increase linguistic ability and cultural competence in health care delivery and advance research into factors that contribute to racial health disparities, especially among blacks and indigenous peoples.
“They are spending a lot of resources fighting structural racism and the determinants of health and environmental exposure,” said University of Arizona public health professor Paloma Beamer. “It was pretty exciting.”
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3. Reducing industrial emissions and environmental impact.
While the plan is primarily about addressing environmental injustices, there is an opportunity to focus on reducing the healthcare industry’s own environmental footprint, Beamer said.
The US healthcare sector is estimated to responsible 8.5% of national carbon emissions. Globally, the US accounts for 25% of all global emissions from the healthcare sector, according to researchers at the National Academy of Medicine.
AT separate A climate change initiative, HHS focuses on reducing emissions and building climate resilience through federal operations, and offers private sector incentives.
“Our plan is a roadmap to ensure that we all work together to address climate change-related threats to health and well-being for all people in the United States, especially the most vulnerable,” an HHS spokesperson said. “The plan also ensures the continuity of healthcare facilities in the face of extreme weather events and promotes healthy reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and resilience efforts in the public health sector and in society.”
4. Recruitment and training of the workforce
The draft plan calls for the recruitment of people from underserved communities to carry out environmental hazard cleanup, construction, and emergency response work, as well as the creation of environmental justice training programs for federal and health care workers.
Beamer said HHS needs to target those same communities to expand the reach of clinicians in public health and primary health care.
5. Occupational hazards
This is not discussed in the project, but occupational health risks should also be discussed and more research is needed, Beamer said. Workplace illness and injury costs the United States $250 billion a year in healthcare costs, according to the CDC.
Regulations relating to workplace safety usually fall under the Department of Labor’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health, but HHS funds research into occupational illness and injury through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.