Wildfires are impacting the state’s inpatient facilities.
Wildfires are becoming increasingly frequent and devastating in California, with millions of acres of land being burned and thousands of people being displaced yearly. In addition to the direct damage caused by wildfires, they can significantly impact the state’s infrastructure, including its healthcare facilities.
A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives analyzed the potential impacts of wildfires on inpatient healthcare facilities in California. The study found that there are over 240 inpatient healthcare facilities located within high or very high wildfire hazard zones in the state. This means that these facilities are at risk of being directly impacted by wildfires, either through damage to their buildings or disruptions to their electricity and water supply.
The study also found that the number of inpatient healthcare facilities within high or very-high wildfire hazard zones has increased by 3.3% since 2012. This increase can be attributed to expanding the state’s healthcare infrastructure and the increasing severity and frequency of wildfires in California.
In addition to the direct impact of wildfires on inpatient healthcare facilities, they also have an indirect impact. For example, power outages caused by wildfires can disrupt the electricity supply to healthcare facilities, which can be particularly dangerous for patients who require life-support equipment or other medical devices. Similarly, wildfires can lead to road closures and evacuations, making it difficult for healthcare workers to access their workplaces.
To address these potential impacts, the study’s authors recommend that healthcare facilities located in wildfire-prone areas develop comprehensive emergency plans that address the potential impacts of wildfires. These plans should include measures to ensure the continuous supply of electricity, access to medical supplies and equipment, and the safe evacuation of patients and staff if necessary.
There are some steps that California healthcare facilities can take to prepare for the potential impacts of wildfires. For example, they can invest in backup generators or battery systems to ensure that critical medical equipment continues to function during power outages. They can also stockpile emergency supplies of food, water, and medical equipment to ensure they can continue providing care even if supplies are disrupted.
In addition, healthcare facilities can work with local emergency management agencies to develop coordinated response plans for wildfires. These plans include identifying evacuation routes, establishing communication channels with other healthcare facilities and emergency responders, and coordinating patient transfer.
A study carried out on wildfire threats to inpatient fs facilities suggested that policies should address facility-level preparedness, including smoke mitigation, sheltering measures, evacuation procedures, and resource allocation. They should also consider regional evacuation needs, including access to emergency medical services and patient transportation.
While it is important for healthcare facilities to take steps to prepare for the potential impact of wildfires, it is also important to recognize that the impact is not distributed equally across the population. Individuals who live in low-income communities or have limited access to healthcare may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of wildfires on healthcare facilities. For example, they may be less able to afford or access alternative healthcare facilities if their local facility is damaged or disrupted by a wildfire.
To address these equity concerns, policymakers and healthcare providers need to work together to ensure that all communities have access to high-quality, resilient healthcare facilities. This can involve investing in the development of new healthcare infrastructure in areas that are less prone to wildfires, as well as supporting existing facilities in high-risk areas to improve their resilience.