Climate change protection essential for hospitals, say experts

RCMP escort evacuees from Fort McMurray, Alberta past wildfires that were still burning out of control Saturday, May 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

“Living through the largest medical evacuation in Canadian history, David Matear experienced a wall of flames that threatened to consume the entire town of Fort McMurray. As the senior operating director for the health system in northern Alberta at the time, Matear witnessed the chaos and destruction caused by the encroaching wildfire.

After the smoke cleared and the flames subsided, the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre stood tall, a beacon of resilience in the face of disaster. However, the damage caused by the fire was significant, and it highlighted the urgent need for disaster-proofing Canada’s hospitals.

Unforeseen Threats to Health-care Facilities

Disasters like fires, floods, heat waves, and extreme weather not only impact the communities they strike but also pose a significant threat to the hospitals themselves. Ryan Ness, director of adaptation research at the Canadian Climate Institute, emphasizes the importance of preparing Canada’s hospitals for the increasing risks posed by climate-related emergencies.

With an aging health-care infrastructure and the looming specter of climate change, the need to fortify hospitals against disaster is more pressing than ever. Ness warns that failure to do so could result in added costs and, more gravely, lives lost.

Preparing for a Resilient Future

As the threat of climate-related disasters continues to grow, proactive measures must be taken to ensure the resilience of Canada’s health-care facilities. From upgrading ventilation systems to relocating electrical components to higher ground, there are various solutions available to mitigate the risks posed by natural calamities.

Looking ahead, transformative changes are needed to future-proof our hospitals and safeguard the health of Canadians. Prioritizing disaster preparedness in the design and construction of new health-care facilities, as seen in the case of the new St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, sets a precedent for proactive adaptation to climate change.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The events of Fort McMurray in 2016 served as a wake-up call for the vulnerability of our health-care infrastructure in the face of disasters. As Matear aptly puts it, we must be better prepared than ever before to safeguard our hospitals and communities from the increasing frequency of emergency events.

It’s time for every health authority and ministry in Canada to prioritize disaster-proofing our hospitals and ensuring their resilience in times of crisis. The cost of inaction far outweighs the investment required to secure our life-saving infrastructure for the future.

By taking proactive measures now, we can build a more resilient health-care system that can withstand the challenges of a changing climate. The time to act is now, for the health and well-being of all Canadians.”



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