This article is reprinted from the Speak Out Now healthcare newsletter at Kaiser and Highland Hospitals in Oakland, CA.
The past couple of months have seen record temperatures across the U.S. and the rest of the world. Not only heat waves, but resulting fire and smoke, increase hospital and routine clinic visits. There have already been a surge in heat-related hospitalizations, according to CDC data. In the week ending July 22, a group of western states, including California, had a rate of heat-related hospitalizations 51% above the average seen since 2018, while southern states had a 37% spike.
Many of the heat-related work deaths are in outdoor occupations such as construction, agriculture and delivery services. But indoor workplaces lacking air conditioning, such as many warehouses, can also place workers at risk. Extreme heat is killing more people in the U.S. than any other type of climate disaster or severe weather, and is disproportionately affecting low-income and communities of color.
These deaths are preventable and are the direct consequence of policy choices. For example, Governor Abbott of Texas just passed a law eliminating mandated water breaks for construction workers.
The results of climate change are knocking on our hospital doors, and it will be healthcare workers on the front lines tending to those in need. Climate change is a public health crisis.