Climate change is raising sea levels and increasing the risk of coastal flooding throughout the United States. As the frequency and intensity of floods increase, they can have devastating effects on hospitals—undermining access to healthcare when it is needed most.
Researchers at The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, and PSE Healthy Energy analyzed how climate change is shifting flood risk for hospitals in the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. The study, published in GeoHealth, analyzes the risk posed by category 1-4 storms to 682 acute care hospitals in the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Collectively, these hospitals serve roughly 1 in 4 Americans.
Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that climate change will increase the risk of hospital flooding by 22% this century. They found that hospitals in certain regions face significantly higher risk. In 25 of the metropolitan areas examined, at least half of all hospitals were at risk of flooding from a category 2 storm. Among these, the 10 zones with the greatest risk are:
- Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
- Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
- New Orleans-Metairie, LA
- Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
- North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL
- Jacksonville, FL
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
The researchers found that roads critical to hospital access were also at risk from flooding. In 18 of the regions analyzed, category 2 storms risked flooding at least half of the roads within one mile of the hospitals.
For coastal hospitals, even relatively weak storms can create serious risks for hospital infrastructure. At the same time, floods often impact other critical infrastructure, such as roads, further restricting access to care.
Hospitals must therefore adapt as climate change increases the risk of floods. Hospitals can increase resilience by preparing to operate off-grid, with features such as on-site sewage treatment facilities, and by building critical equipment out of floodplains.