Building capacity to reduce human health impacts of climate change in New York State
In New York State, the climate is becoming warmer, wetter, and more variable. Impacts such as heat waves, flooding, and extreme weather events (e.g., heavy rain or snow) are already affecting human health and well-being and are projected to continue. In 2010, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) was awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to build capacity and develop a plan for reducing human health impacts of climate change. The NYSDOH is prioritizing planning for extreme weather events, extreme heat, and vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases.
In 2010, the NYSDOH was awarded a Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative (CRSCI) grant from the CDC to assess the impacts of climate change on public health and develop ways to improve resiliency. Subsequent funding was awarded by the CDC in 2013 and 2016 to continue implementing activities to help prepare for and respond to the health impacts of climate change in the state.
The NYSDOH is prioritizing planning for extreme weather events, extreme heat, and vector-, food-, and water-borne diseases, although current project activities have concentrated on preparing for extreme heat events. Specific project goals include working with partners to implement climate adaptation options to reduce potential climate impacts on health, and developing tools for local health departments and other agencies to address the public health impacts of climate change.
The NYSDOH has collected data and conducted research to better understand and characterize the health impacts from extreme heat events, and has created supporting tools for local health departments and communities. Some examples of project activities include:
- Revising the threshold at which the state issues heat-health warnings based on research linking temperature data with heat-related illness data;
- Creating a heat vulnerability index and supporting maps, including locations of cooling centers;
- Creating county-specific heat-health profiles, which explore how temperatures have increased over time, summarize heat-related illnesses (e.g., dehydration, heat stroke), and provide links to resources that may benefit their population (e.g., cooling assistance program);
- Projecting the economic impacts of different heat forecasts and the associated increases in respiratory diseases;
- Developing fact sheets, social media messages, brochures, and other outreach materials for heat events;
- Working with the NYS Office for the Aging to develop materials for senior citizens, including adding a link to the Cooling Center Mapping Application on their Aging Services app, which connects older adults with information on health, housing, and transportation options; and
- Working with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate-Smart Communities Program to integrate health-related action items (e.g., conducting a vulnerability assessment for a public health issue, designating cooling centers, etc.) into their climate-smart certification program.
Other key project partners have included the NYS Energy and Research Authority and the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The National Climate Assessment and New York State ClimAid report were instrumental resources for these efforts.
Outcomes and Conclusions
As a result of this work, NYSDOH has created several products to help the state prepare for the public health impacts of climate change, including the Climate and Health Profile Report, County Heat and Health Profiles, Heat Vulnerability Index, and Cooling Center mapping tool.
The NYSDOH has evaluated or plans to evaluate several aspects of their project, including surveying local health departments to assess the effectiveness of products and tools (e.g., heat-health index) and collecting information on how and when cooling centers are used. Next steps for the project include working with local health departments to identify their heat-health priorities, establishing mini-grants for local health departments to implement adaptation options for heat-health priorities, pursuing opportunities for working with tribes and tribal organizations in the state, and participating in the process to create a state adaptation plan.
Factors that have helped facilitate adaptation action throughout this project include state-level political support for addressing climate change and recent extreme events (e.g., several 500-year flood events) that have impacted communities and brought attention to the need for planning and response. Some barriers that have arisen include limited funding and challenges attributing changes in health trends with climate change.
Kershner J. 2019. Building capacity to reduce human health impacts of climate change in New York State [Case study on a project of the New York State Department of Health]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/building-capacity-reduce-human-health-impacts-climate-change-new-york-state (Last updated June 2019)