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Healthcare Equity

On September 9th, the Bay Area awoke to an orange-tinted sky. With weeks of poor air quality, the argument for taking immediate action to mitigate climate change became unavoidable. Many of us stayed indoors that day, but the providers at ZSFG were at work, treating patients and calming fears.

For Kimberlee Honda, RN, Clinical Director of the Pediatric Asthma/Allergy Clinic, her patients are among those most affected by smoke-filled days. Luckily, she and her team have been able to keep their clinic open throughout COVID-19. This has proven essential for caregivers concerned about protecting their children from harmful air days, the upcoming flu season, and a serious airborne virus. 

Through frequent telehealth visits, clinic staff have built trust with families, advising when to stay at home, and helping to protect the nearly 800 patients they see each year. 

The compounding effects of 2020 seem to be the new normal. With wildfire season growing each year, West Coast hospitals like ZSFG are forced to prepare for an influx of patients affected by smoke inhalation. This is leading to a movement to integrate climate change into healthcare and medical education. And at ZSFG, caring for patients on that orange-sky day placed urgency on the need for big systemic change.

“The poor air quality here affects everyone in the Bay Area, but it is clear that it disproportionately affects our most vulnerable populations such as people experiencing homelessness.”

“The poor air quality here affects everyone in the Bay Area, but it is clear that it disproportionately affects our most vulnerable populations such as people experiencing homelessness” noted Nick Iverson, MD. He sees a role that he and his fellow providers must play in not only treating the effects of our changing environment but also educating patients on ways they can protect themselves and advocating for stronger hospital policies.

Now, with flu season upon us, it is so important to combat this perfect storm of climate change and COVID-19—especially for our most vulnerable.