By: Anita Desikan, Former NACCHO Intern, and Chelsea Gridley-Smith, PhD, Senior Program Analyst at NACCHO
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) develops and manages projects related to climate change through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The goal of these projects is to increase the knowledge of local health departments (LHDs), CDC, and NACCHO about the current state of local health department engagement of the health effects of climate change, preparedness to address the health effects of climate change, and barriers and facilitators to departmental efforts. NACCHO and CDC strive to help health departments prepare for and respond to the health effects of climate change and expand access to strategies and tools to do so.
Local Health Departments: On the Front Lines of Climate Change
NACCHO reached out to several LHDs to better understand how city and county health departments are preparing for the health impacts of climate change. The goal of this project was to highlight local efforts to prepare for and build resiliency to the health impacts of climate change and share these success stories to support new and ongoing initiatives in other LHDs. This project sought to identify best practices and provide real-world case studies. LHDs play an important role in connecting health impacts with the effects of climate change. This project highlights only a few of the many departments actively engaged in climate change efforts.
Each department was asked to describe the effects of climate change on their particular region and what goals and objectives they are pursuing to deal with these effects. The range of climate change issues faced by LHDs varied widely by region and included: diverse populations, mountain ranges, watersheds, river basins, coastal areas, high populations, and destination cities. Each success story was chosen to reflect geographically and socioeconomically diverse regions and cover the expanse of climate change effects, from direct effects (e.g., heat waves, storms and floods, droughts, sea level rise, air pollution) to indirect effects (e.g., health equity, vector-, water- and food-borne diseases, mental health conditions, access to fresh water, and food safety and security).
The report highlights the following LHDs’ challenges and efforts around climate change:
- New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – New York
- Chicago Department of Public Health – Illinois
- Green River District Health Department – Kentucky
- Austin Public Health – Texas
- Crook County Health Department – Oregon
- San Francisco Department of Public Health – California
- Boston Public Health Commission – Massachusetts
- City of Milwaukee Health Department – Wisconsin
- Salt Lake County Health Department – Utah
- San Luis Obispo County Health Department – California
- Public Health – Seattle and King County – Washington
Different Departments, Similar Goals
A wide range of strategies are employed by the various LHDs to build resiliency to the health impacts of climate change. The challenges faced by each LHD are unique, varying from sea level rise, flooding and storm surge threats to extreme temperatures, poor air quality, and drought. Despite their differences, many departmental climate change goals are similar:
- Identify and understand current and future health impacts of climate and climate-related hazards;
- Develop a comprehensive plan or framework that reflects local values, concerns, and priorities; includes evidence-based results; and presents interventions and adaptations to reduce and prevent health impacts of climate change;
- Increase climate change coordination (i.e., cross-sector collaboration);
- Build climate change capacity;
- Increase community participation in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts through communication campaigns; and
- Integrate considerations of health equity, environmental justice, and particularly vulnerable populations into jurisdictional climate change policies.
Preparing for the Health Impacts of Climate Change: Any Local Health Department Can Do It!
As each LHD faces unique climate change challenges, they also face unique challenges in terms of resources (e.g., funding, personnel) and support for climate change-related initiatives at the departmental, jurisdictional, community, county, and state levels. Depending on the level of resources and support, each LHD may develop more conservative or more progressive objectives to address the health impacts of climate change. The following objectives may be considered for your LHD:
- Educate and train health department staff on the health impacts of climate change and the health department’s role in local climate change initiatives;
- Inform city-wide climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resiliency planning efforts with partner agencies;
- Characterize disparities and explicitly address vulnerable populations in programs and policies focused on climate-related health impacts with the goal of reducing health disparities;
- Launch public education campaigns to increase knowledge of community partners to the public health and long-term consequences of climate change;
- Procure funding to sustain research and analysis of local climate-related health indicators;
- Implement a communication strategy to raise awareness about climate change and health;
- Build the capacity of departmental staff and programs to monitor health impacts, integrate climate preparedness, and improve climate response; and
- Expand and enhance partnerships to ensure climate change is a recognized public health issue and provide guidance to reduce health risks and create more resilient communities.
The case studies presented in this report can provide example goals and objectives to further other LHDs’ climate change initiatives. Regardless of how your department is currently preparing for the health impacts of climate change, there are a number of goals and objectives you can set to begin, or continue, to adapt, mitigate, and build resilience to climate change.
To learn more about this report, contact Chelsea Gridley-Smith.