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Health Law Scan

Legal Insights and Perspectives for the Healthcare Industry

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the establishment of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE). Noting that the OCCHE is “the first office of its kind at the national level to address climate change and health equity,” the OCCHE will be tasked with assisting with regulatory efforts aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollution throughout the healthcare sector.

Healthcare systems must rapidly adapt to a world where increasing numbers of individuals fall ill or are injured because of climate-related diseases and extreme weather events. The healthcare industry itself is also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions (producing approximately 10% of total greenhouse gases in the United States), and hospital systems nationwide are working to reduce their carbon footprint and take effort to become resilient against the effects of climate change.

Hospitals are among the most energy-intensive buildings in the United States. Many are working to identify inefficiencies in existing infrastructure and implement climate-friendly solutions. Healthcare systems are taking measures such as replacing fluorescent lightbulbs with more efficient LED bulbs; using software to reduce the energy consumed by medical grade computers; installing energy-efficient air exchange systems; establishing power purchase agreements to source from renewables; and constructing and renovating buildings in compliance with LEED certification conditions.

It is also imperative for hospitals in at-risk areas to identify and plan for ways in which climate change–related extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires can disrupt operations. Hospitals are implementing climate-resilient designs including heavy insulation, distributed generation projects, and increased elevation for waterfront hospitals. Such changes are welcomed and encouraged by hospital insurers, which increasingly require reporting of climate change–induced risk.

Hospital systems have had access to significant funding for climate-related projects, and some have successfully partnered with venture capital firms to issue green bonds, or received government grants, to fund climate upgrades.

Morgan Lewis is partnering with our clients in the healthcare industry to identify the risks and opportunities from, and strategies to mitigate and adapt to, the effects of climate change on their businesses. Our climate change team is advising clients on energy and environmental regulation, government policy, litigation, taxation, project development and finance, investment, and commercial issues, all of which can come into play as clients identify how they will need to respond to our changing world.