Feb 9, 2018

If you live in Florida, doctors say climate change is already affecting your health

Florida
USA
by
Alex Harris
,
Miami Herald
Doctor David Farcy works on David Patlak, acting as a cardiac arrest patient during an emergency drill, at Mount Sinai Medical Center's Emergency Room, July 24, 2015. Floridians are already experiencing the health effects of climate change, including heat stroke and heart problems, doctors say. Now some medical practitioners are banding together to educate and advocate for their patients as the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. Photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald
Doctor David Farcy works on David Patlak, acting as a cardiac arrest patient during an emergency drill, at Mount Sinai Medical Center's Emergency Room, July 24, 2015. Floridians are already experiencing the health effects of climate change, including heat stroke and heart problems, doctors say. Now some medical practitioners are banding together to educate and advocate for their patients as the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. Photo: Emily Michot, Miami Herald

When most people think about climate change — if they do at all — what usually comes to mind is melting glaciers, starving polar bears and flood waters lapping at the doors of Miami Beach condo buildings.

The popular thought is that the future impacts of a warming globe are just that, problems for the future.

But doctors in Florida say the changing climate is a public health risk, one they already see in their waiting rooms right now. Now, some clinicians have formed a new group to sound the alarm.

They want to educate people and policymakers about the dangers of a hotter, more humid world, and the risks to their most vulnerable patients, patients like the one Dr. Cheryl Holder, president of the Florida State Medical Association, met one suffocatingly hot Miami summer day.

The elderly woman arrived at Holder’s clinic with two requests — more medicine and her doctor’s signature on a form for her power company.

She had asthma, worsened by the heat wave stifling South Florida, so she burned through her prescription earlier than expected. She cranked the air conditioning down in her Opa-Locka home to cope, but when her bill came at the end of the month she was shocked. On a fixed income, it wasn’t an expense she could afford.

She asked Holder to sign a form from Florida Power & Light certifying that she had life saving equipment in her house — like a ventilator or a nebulizer — that would earn her a discount on her bill, even though she didn’t own any of the approved equipment. So Holder didn’t sign the form, but she did give her patient a second medication to help keep her asthma in check.

Long after she left, Holder still worries about that patient. She worries that as climate change makes the world warmer and sends deadly heat waves to Florida and beyond, that there will be a lot more patients like this woman in the future.

“Being in Florida especially, you can’t not realize what’s happening to our climate,” she said. “I see it right now on a day-to-day basis.”

She’s not alone. Doctors across the state are worried too, and some have banded together to form Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. The group is so new it doesn’t have a leadership structure or a set agenda yet, but members said they want to make sure people know how climate change is already affecting public health.