to main content Physician Leader Monthly February 2023 | The Joint Commission

Physician Leader Monthly February 2023

Healthcare’s Imperative to Address Climate Change

By Jonathan B. Perlin, MD, PhD, MSHA, MACP, FACMI, President and Chief Executive Officer, and David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, Executive Vice President for Health Care Quality Evaluation


Climate change is, of course, an environmental issue, but it is also an issue of health and health equity.  Worldwide, if healthcare were considered a country, it would be the fifth greatest polluter. In the United States, nearly 9% of our carbon footprint comes from healthcare.

Climate change has catastrophic consequences for health. Extreme weather can exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, and it has brought diseases endemic to tropical and subtropical regions (such as chikungunya virus, Rift Valley Fever, and West Nile virus) to previously temperate areas. Of course, the individuals least able to mitigate the effects of climate change on their lives are those already burdened with adverse social determinants of health, and they also are unable to “buy themselves out” of adverse circumstances by relocating elsewhere, installing and paying for air conditioning, or paying the increasingly high costs of healthy food.

Climate change also adversely affects health care and health outcomes.

Many parts of the U.S. have experienced extreme heat events that they have never seen before. About 800 people died in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia during a heat wave that hit in late June and early July of 2021. The temperature reached an all-time high of 116F (46.7C) in Portland. Many people do not have air conditioning in these areas, and health care systems can quickly become overwhelmed with people suffering from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and exacerbations of heart and lung disease.

Since climate change adversely affects health and health equity and given that U.S. healthcare is such a potent contributor to both the national and worldwide carbon footprint, we must act to “decarbonize” healthcare. The Joint Commission has not only committed to reducing its own carbon footprint by half by 2030 and to “net-zero” by 2050, but we have convened a panel of national health and climate leaders to help us examine our standards to be sure that our requirements do not inadvertently contribute to excess consumption (e.g., use of disposable equipment). Simultaneously, we have engaged a large group of experts in this area to advise us on writing new standards and identifying resources that will help healthcare organizations assess their unique situations and take the steps needed to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Optimal health care can no longer ignore the environment and its contribution to climate change. We must “First, do no harm” and minimize our carbon footprint as we care for patients. For the health of the planet and our patients, we must act now.

Some decarbonization resources:


In this issue:

  • Joint Commission Journal: A study in the February issue evaluated how well patients retain care information after hospital discharge and assessed patient perspectives on facilitators of this process, such as whiteboards, discussions with providers, discharge paperwork and patient portal.


Just launched: Health Care Equity Certification program

A new Health Care Equity (HCE) Certification program will be effective July 1, 2023. This advanced certification program will recognize accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals that strive for excellence in their efforts to provide equitable care, treatment, and services.


In other news

New Assisted Living Community requirements to prohibit restraint, seclusion

New Memory Care Certification option for Assisted Living Communities debuts in July

Effective July 1: New, revised Emergency Management standards for Home Care program

Joint Commission International launches telehealth certification

The Joint Commission and National Quality Forum announce 2022 Eisenberg Award recipients

Joint Commission appoints 3 new members to Board of Commissioners

Newly released 

New issues of Sentinel Event Alert, Quick Safety address maternal health, health equity and mental health

In June 2022, the White House issued a report stating that the United States is facing a maternal health crisis. The Joint Commission has been actively working to help address the myriad and complex causes of maternal mortality and morbidity.


More new releases

New resources available in Health Care Equity Resource Center

New search site available for substance use disorder treatment providers

Life Safety Code Career Fair set for Feb. 16

Patient-Centered Medical Home Health Equity Technical Assistance Symposium virtual event set for March 29-30

Blogs for docs 

NYC Care: Closing the Healthcare Access Gap for Undocumented New Yorkers

By Jonathan Jiménez, MD, MPH, Executive Director of NYC Care, NYC Health + Hospitals

This fall, the NYC Care team was honored to be named as a co-recipient of the 2022 Bernard J. Tyson National Award for Excellence in Pursuit of Healthcare Equity. Since NYC Care launched in 2019, the team – made up of NYC Health + Hospitals staff members, New York City agency partners, and our network of community-based organizations – has worked tirelessly to close the access gap between documented and undocumented New Yorkers.


In the media

Joint Commission Standards Review: Fewer, More Meaningful Requirements | AHA Stat

Joint Commission makes health equity a national safety goal | Becker’s Hospital Review

The Joint Commission targets maternal health crisis | healthleaders

Expanded Antibiotic Stewardship Standards for Hospitals Will Help Combat Superbugs |

Health care sector decarbonization to accelerate in 2023: How to do it best | The Hill

Multimedia feature

New podcast: Interview with Tyson Award recipient NYC Health + Hospitals

A new episode features NYC Health + Hospitals, one of the recipients of the 2022 Bernard J. Tyson National Award for Excellence in Pursuit of Healthcare Equity. Hear about NYC Health + Hospital’s initiative to expand access to healthcare to undocumented New Yorkers and others who are ineligible for or cannot afford healthcare. [10:42]

Listen >>