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Pilot Project Aims to Build Climate Resilience at TX Health Clinics

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Monday, April 26, 2021   

HOUSTON, Texas -- Climate-change events can create a significant challenge for community health centers serving clients in states such as Texas. Three of those centers are now participating in a pilot project to enhance their response.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has identified clinics in Houston, Beaumont and Matagorda County that need support to address climate-related impacts on health and health care.

Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the school, said often people think of fortifying buildings to address climate change, but when hurricanes, heat waves or other disasters strike, care providers and clinics need to have resources that reduce harm to their patients.

"Patients with cancer, lung cancer in particular, in the state of Texas have worse outcomes when they're in counties that have been more heavily impacted by hurricanes," Bernstein explained.

When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, the Episcopal Health facility in Matagorda, a rural, underserved area, had to be evacuated. More recently, many patients and staff were impacted by February's unexpected winter storm.

Bernstein noted the pilot program will allow participating clinics to fill knowledge gaps about how to intervene for their specific patient populations.

Neena Arora, chief operations officer for the San José Clinic south of San Antonio, said with more extreme weather events that compromise access to power, medications and medical records clinics need to buffer risks to the patients that will improve health outcomes.

"Our patients live in these pockets of town which are lower in income, and they don't have the means to take care of what's needed when these storms hit," Arora stressed.

The project also will benefit clinics in California, Massachusetts and North Carolina.


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