Heat & Health – Building future-proof hospitals
The Heat & Health project seeks to contribute actively to climate-friendly urban development. With its central location, the Charité has an influence on Berlin’s climate, air quality and cityscape that ought not be underestimated. The project pursues a green approach emphasizing health and sustainability that is oriented toward climate protection and actively works to counteract (or address) the growing challenges presented by increasing temperatures by considering the needs of all involved.
The need for action
Health care systems are an integral part of our communities. The extent to which the healthcare sector contributes to climate change may come as a surprise to many people. The German health care system is responsible for 5.2% of German CO2 emissions. A total of 111,729 tonnes of CO2 were produced at Charité in 2018. This is the background to the Charité’s commitment to reducing its emissions by 20% by the end of 2028 (Climate Protection Agreement, 2019). Charité also has to confront the impact of climate change on employees and patients. Rising temperatures have led to numerous health problems. During the summer, high temperatures can make working conditions unbearable and increasing numbers of patients present with heat stress. In combination with inefficient building design, increased temperatures can also lead to poorer indoor air quality and this can in turn can harm the health of staff in the workplace and patients.
Researchers are challenged to understand how people in the health sector are affected by the increased temperatures associated with global warming and how these effects can best be counteracted. Data needs to be gathered to uncover the aspects of human physiology and psychology that are particularly affected and the mechanisms involved. This data must also be sited in the context of both environmental conditions and health-specific factors. The challenge of finding countermeasures encompasses the need for practical and non-invasive tools that can be easily implemented at the levels of individuals, buildings, and institutions.
Our solution consists of two components:
(1) Understanding the effects of increased temperatures on health care facilities
(2) Implementing and evaluating countermeasures.
Our experiment will be a pilot study designed to achieve a fuller understanding of these fundamental aspects before we address more complex health care settings and individuals.
The pilot study will generate solutions to the problem that climate change represents for health care in each of the areas below:
1. A selection of suitable instruments for monitoring health and well-being
2. A selection of countermeasures to combat potential heat-related hazards
3. A set of occupational medicine standards and suggestions for health care facilities
4. A set of architectural and design standards and suggestions for the construction and renovation of health care facilities
Modeling has shown precisely that even immediate action cannot prevent temperatures in Berlin from rising. Together with other health challenges (such as poor air quality, which is a particular issue for major cities like Berlin), this rise in temperatures will particularly affect older adults, children and the sick and result in increased hospital admissions. This in turn means that rising temperatures will pose challenges for medical staff, especially in large cities like Berlin. This deduction underscores the high relevance of studies contributing to the well-being of medical personnel.
As health research is a paradigmatic example of a cross-cutting issue, the Heat & Health project will link up with different levels and the insights generated will be of relevance beyond the hospitals sector. Findings at the social level will be especially relevant: How can necessary steps toward climate-neutral and healthy lifestyles be communicated to citizens? At the level of technology, additional developments in the city need to be pursued in order to meet the requirements for realizing a “digital twin” that combines meteorological data from the macro and micro levels with physiological and construction-related data with the aid of artificial intelligence. It is anticipated that combining and analyzing this data will create the basis for necessary decisions on the part of various stakeholders and societal actors in Berlin and Brandenburg to protect the biosphere and enable people in the Berlin-Brandenburg region to benefit from healthy lifestyles and healthy workplaces in the future.