Fall 2021 | Volume 102, Number 4
SARA SHIPLEY HILES
The first rule of medicine is "do no harm." Yet the health care industry itself is a major source of pollution, accounting for about 8.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and a similar share of major air pollutants. If the American health care industry were a country, it would rank ahead of the entire United Kingdom in emissions — and the numbers keep rising.
LLOYD H. DEAN
We are living in a pivotal moment. This new decade has been characterized by tragedy and tension, from the global pandemic to nationwide social upheaval. At the same time, our collective experience has taught us lessons sure to spark critically needed change for years to come. Among the issues justly elevated in our political and public health discourse is health equity, or the inherent right we all have to reach our full health potential, regardless of our social status or circumstances.
LAURA ANDERKO, PhD, RN
Environmental justice is a human rights issue and one that significantly impacts health. In his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis calls for "an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions."1 Due to wealth disparities, systemic racism, the legacy of redlining, poor land use in community planning and marginalized political influence, many communities face negative health consequences from polluting industries, natural disasters and climate change.
CRAIG CORDOLA, MBA, MHA, FACHE
Many of us have found ourselves at the intersection of health care and the environment. For me, one of the most impactful moments took place earlier in my career, serving in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I will forever remember sitting at our transfer center in Houston around midnight, watching our helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ambulances set out for New Orleans to help evacuate people to our city. In the days to come, busloads of people arrived at the Astrodome and the convention center, where we were providing care. They came with nothing other than what they could carry — totally displaced from family members, dropped off in an unfamiliar city. It impressed on me that when the fabric of a community breaks down following a natural disaster, you really don't have normal infrastructure and processes. Things like security, safety, food, access and relationships get stripped away. Katrina left both cities forever changed. All because of a natural disaster, exacerbated by climate change.
In their first year as students at the Emory University School of Medicine, Ben Rabin and Emaline Laney noticed something blatantly missing from their curricula: any information on the consequences of climate change.
Every community around the world faces the existential crisis of climate change. As a direct result of this crisis, the negative impact to human health will affect current and future generations.
SUSAN K. BARNETT
I recently had surgery to restore some hearing loss. It was an outpatient procedure but required general anesthesia. Though I found myself in post-op recovery at a top hospital in New York City, where I live, the picture I couldn't get out of my mind was of something quite different. I work on issues of access to water and sanitation and as I felt my fresh sheets and took notice of the clean bathrooms and persistent handwashing by staff, I couldn't help but revisit the hospitals and health clinics I've seen where clean and safe health care is impossible.
CHRISTINA LEAÑO, MA
"The virus is everywhere: my blood, my lungs, my stomach," my husband weakly croaked through the phone from his hospital bed in Manhattan. I imagined the virus to be like the Blob from the 1950s movie: dark, invasive and taking over everything in its path.
MYLES N. SHEEHAN, SJ, MD
The last 18 months have been filled with concurrent crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an exceptional stress on our American health care system, stretching hospitals, physicians, nurses and all health care providers to, and sometimes beyond, their limits. The death toll in excess of 650,000 has been awful in itself, but the evidence of poor outcomes for minorities and those with low incomes demonstrates in stark fashion the inequities that appear to be inherent in American health care. Along with the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, killed under a police officer's knee, and other police-related deaths of people of color brought to the fore issues of racism, injustice and structural inequality in our society.
ALEX GARVEY, PhD
Human trafficking strikes at the core of Catholic identity because of the ministry's deep commitment to promoting and defending human dignity, especially among those most vulnerable. When studies indicated that upwards of 80% of human trafficking victims have seen a health care provider while they were being trafficked, Catholic health care responded.1 Our solutions include raising awareness of the issue in the communities we serve and in training health care providers and staff to understand the signs and identify potential victims of human trafficking.