Karen McKenny

Climate Change and Nurses?

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Thursday July 17, 2014

Karen McKenny of South Burlington, recently  presented on the issue of Climate Change and Health Care, at the National Clean Med Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Clean Med is the premier national environmental conference for leaders in health care sustainability who are on the leading edge of greening the health care sector. It is a gathering and opportunity for businesses with environmentally preferable products and services or nutritious, sustainable foods to connect with the health care leaders who make purchasing decisions for their facilities. These are leaders at the forefront of implementing sustainability projects, green building design and environmentally preferable purchasing.

As a nurse at Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC), and an advocate for the environment as a member of the South Burlington Energy Committee and the city’s team leader for Vermontivate, McKenny had the opportunity to apply for the Climate Change and Nurses contest sponsored by Health Care Without Harm. The contest, which offers a monetary grand prize and an opportunity to present at the annual Clean Med conference, is intended to help encourage nurses to play an active role in mitigating the health threats of climate change through local and national projects. Nurses from across the country submitted proposals of projects to educate, manage, mitigate or otherwise affect the direct and indirect effects of health from Climate Change in their local communities. There were many proposals submitted from across the country that were first narrowed down to 25, and then to the top three, of which McKenny  was one. As a winner, she was invited to attend the conference and share her  proposal.

The World Health Organization has called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Whether it is the increase in respiratory conditions like asthma from worsening air quality or preparing our communities for the effects of severe storms, to managing the health impacts from severe heat, cold, encroaching infectious disease such as Lyme or Dengue Fever or food insecurity, nurses are on the front line of managing the health effects of climate change.

“My proposal included working with the creators of Vermontivate to include challenges to educate and offer mitigation strategies to players, about the indirect and direct impact on health from climate change. From sharing stories about the impact on health in communities or in their personal lives, to offering strategies for severe weather events, to increasing awareness of the connection between health and our changing environment, it’s all connected.  Whether we are talking about energy conservation, food sustainability, or transportation, the impacts on our health needs to be part of the conversation. I also outlined plans for a series of nursing workshops across the state to educate nurses on the front lines caring for their patients as we face the health challenges related to climate change,” said McKenny. 

“It was wonderful to be with this committed group of people working on these issues across the country in the health care sector. It was one of the few conferences I have attended where people from every sector of health care come together to promote a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and, instead, promotes the health of people and the environment. It was inspiring to be with physicians, directors of facilities, nutrition services, nurses, and health care leadership all networking together on these issues,” she continued. 

FAHC was also honored as one of the top 25 Environmental Excellence Award winners from Practice Greenhealth.  Practice Greenhealth Environmental Excellence Awards recognize health care facilities and organizational members for their demonstrated commitment to environmental practices and sustainability. 

The Clean Med mission is to accelerate the health care sectors commitment to environmental sustainability and regenerative health in order to improve the health of people and the environment.