In the days before Harvey, the San Jose Clinic was on hurricane watch. The safety net clinic, which serves uninsured and low income-patients in Houston and Fort Bend County, had been through this many times before.
The clinic moved all of its temperature-sensitive vaccines and medications to a sister clinic that had a generator. It also gave patients advice on how to store medication in the case of a power outage.
“We ended up taking precautions,” said Dr. Adlia Ebeid, the clinic’s director of pharmacy. “We weren’t sure if we’re going to get flooded. We weren’t sure if we’re going to lose power.”
Luckily, the clinic was unscathed by the storm, but the pharmacy’s weekly shipments were delayed. Dr. Ebeid scrambled to find a solution for her patients.
The CEO of the company that supplies their medication agreed to drive down from Nashville to personally deliver the shipment.
“He literally packed his car in the middle of the night,” Ebeid said. “He had all his paperwork in case he got pulled over. There was a curfew at the time.”
San Jose Clinic was able to avoid 100-200 patients going without crucial medication.
Challenges like these are the subject of attention for a group of researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, who are using Greater Houston and other areas in Texas and other parts of the country to study how climate change impacts safety net clinics and the populations they serve.
The researchers teamed up with the San Jose Clinic, the Matagorda Episcopal Health Outreach Program and other health centers in disaster-prone regions to craft best practices for how clinics should react to climate change.
“There’s no guidance here,” said Dr. Ari Bernstein, the interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard. “There’s nowhere for these clinics to turn for. Even if they wanted to, there would be no information for them to pick up easily.”
Dr. Bernstein conducted a literature review of government documents and peer-reviewed articles with information on how clinics should prepare for climate change events. The only checklist he found was tailored to Canadian health clinics.
This dearth of resources may be contributing to a lack of preparedness, Bernstein fears.
“What concerns me most is that at this late date, we haven’t even started,” Bernstein said. “I mean, we wouldn’t be doing this (research) if we had well-laid plans.”