November 3, 2009

Aided by efforts of PSR members, numerous policies protective of public and environmental health were adopted at the recent California Medical Association (CMA) 138th Annual Session (October 15-19, 2009, Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim). This great outcome reflected a strong collaboration of local medical associations, hospital systems such as Kaiser, and professional organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the California Thoracic Society. The policies adopted included addressing concerns about chemicals in flame retardants and air fresheners, raising special awareness among physicians about the dangers posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), and reducing exposures to this class of toxic chemicals. Measures supporting healthy food policy included resolutions calling on CMA to oppose non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, and to support increased taxes on sodas and other relevant high fructose corn syrup sweetened beverages, while encouraging physicians to educate their patients about the health risks associated with the consumption of food and beverages containing high amounts of processed simple sugars or refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup.

Two other important policies centered on addressing the public health challenges posed by climate change were also passed. One resolution focusing on “smart growth” and air pollution reduction called on CMA to support efforts, including the participation of public health officials, to develop ambitious regional targets for local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support land use and transportation strategies to meet those targets.

In addition, SFPSR President Dr. Bob Gould successfully authored a resolution “Ecological Health Footprint for Health Care Facilities” that garnered CMA support for mitigating the impacts of health care system contributions to climate change and toxic pollution through educational efforts among health professionals using resources such as the “Eco-Health Footprint Guide” distributed by the Global Health and Safety Initiative (GHSI).  The GHSI is a sector-wide collaboration of major health care systems including Kaiser Permanente, Ascension Health, Catholic Healthcare West, St. Joseph’s Health and Partners Healthcare, that was formed to transform the way health care designs, builds, and operates its facilities, to support environmentally preferable purchasing in health care and research, and to move public policy forward that supports healthier and safer hospitals, communities, and society. SFPSR staffmembers have been involved in the development of GHSI since its inception through our work with Health Care Without Harm.

These efforts for healthier hospitals have been in complete sync with policies adopted by the CMA over the past decade to curb greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, to reduce petroleum demand and associated pollution, and to reduce a variety of health care-related toxic materials (many policies developed by PSR members, see www.sfbaypsr.org). Energy usage in medical facilities is highly intensive, with hospitals being the second-most energy-intensive commercial buildings in the U.S., expending about twice as much energy per square foot as traditional office space, with the health care sector spending a total of $5.3 billion on energy every year.   The increasing cost and health impacts of using energy, materials and products from petroleum-based sources are estimated to have far-reaching direct and indirect effects on the health care sector, including increasing the costs of medical supplies and equipment, transportation, energy and food (see SFPSR Balanced Menus Campaign), and related fiscal costs.

As such, partly in response to policies adopted by CMA and other state medical associations, the American Medical Association now supports educating the medical community on the potential adverse public health effects of issues such as global climate change, incorporating the health implications of climate change into the spectrum of medical education, and supporting efforts to search for novel and comprehensive approaches to mitigating climate change. PSR is well positioned locally and throughout the nation to maximize the impact of physicians to speak out and act strongly in support of ways that transform the healthcare sector to be a leader in the difficult path forward to protect humanity from the untold consequences of decades of delay in addressing such fundamental threats to our very existence.

CMA Resolution 728-09 “Ecological Health Footprint for Health Care Facilities” states: That CMA encourage the education of physicians and other health professionals with resources, such as the “Eco-Health Footprint Guide” distributed by the Global Health and Safety Initiative, in mitigating the impacts of health care system contributions to climate change and toxic pollution.

For more information about joining PSR’s efforts please visit our website at www.sfbaypsr.org.