Direct Relief Launches “Power for Health” Initiative: Resilient Power for U.S. Healthcare Safety Net

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Initial $ 5 million in funding will enable health centers and free clinics to be more resilient to climate change.

As the latest in a climate change-driven series of record-breaking fire and hurricane seasons ends in the United States, Direct Relief commits an initial $ 5 million to help ensure the U.S. nonprofit health care safety net is better prepared, more robust and better equipped to remain operational through catastrophic blackouts that have become more and more common.

This commitment follows four years and $ 10 million in catastrophic investments in solar and battery power systems for public health centers and other health organizations, beginning in Puerto Rico, where prolonged power outages after Hurricane Maria had crippling effects on the health services of people who trusted them, and in California, where utilities have enacted preventative power outages to reduce the risk of wildfires, now extending over all months of the year.

Direct Relief works extensively with non-profit health centers and free clinics throughout the United States on an ongoing basis and in response to emergencies. It is the first U.S. nonprofit organization accredited to distribute prescription drugs in all 50 U.S. states, operates the largest charitable drug program in the country to support uninsured and low-income patients, and since 2017 has provided $ 1.1 billion in charitable drug donations and paid out $ 127 million in cash to support these critical safety net providers.

“The need is obvious, the risks are higher, and the lessons do not have to be learned the hard way again,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief President and CEO. The Power for Health initiative, launched today, moves from a reaction-driven, reactive approach to an affirmative action that is critical to the US nonprofit health safety net that millions of our least fortunate and most vulnerable residents trust, and which is, of course, important in the larger context of resilient power in a rapidly changing environment. “

The first $ 5 million committed today and additional funds received for the Power for Health initiative will be paid in grants to nonprofit health centers and free and charitable clinics in disaster-prone areas to ensure resilient energy solutions such as solar cell generation and backup battery systems.

More than 29 million people in the United States are dependent on local health centers and charities for primary care, prescription drugs, and treatment of chronic diseases. Because healthcare providers, in turn, rely on electricity to provide patient care, unplanned power outages can be catastrophic, forcing clinics to close their doors, endanger expensive refrigeration-intensive medications, make electronic medical records inaccessible, and even prove fatal to patients. , which is on electric. powered medical equipment.

Yet few health centers are prepared to resist such an interruption. In California, for example, fewer than 40 percent of California’s more than 2,000 safety net health facilities have any form of backup power, according to a recent analysis by Direct Relief, California Primary Care Association and MacroEyes.

Meanwhile, wildfires in California will only intensify absent dramatic changes in politics and human behavior globally, according to a new study from UCLA and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“If no mitigating efforts are made, wildfire activity in the western United States will increase, resulting in significant impacts on human life, human health, and the economy,” said Benjamin Santer, climate researcher at UCLA and author of the study.

Health centers and clinics in US Gulf Coast states face a similar risk. New results published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters predict that hurricanes will hit certain coastal communities with increasing frequency and faster order.

“If you need 15 days to restore the infrastructure – for example, a power system – after a storm hits and the second storm makes landfall before the system can recover, the residents will face dangerous conditions,” said Dazhi Xi, a climate scientist at Princeton University who led the study.

In recent years, the recognition that power is a prerequisite for health care has led to increasing urgent efforts for Direct Relief.

“Modern health care, especially in the United States, presupposes constantly available power,” Tighe said. “The experience of successive years of record-setting forest fires and hurricanes, cold snaps and floods that have resulted in prolonged roadblocks and led to preventive interruptions has eroded the validity of this presumption.”

Electronic health records are required in even non-profit health centers, but backup power is not. Millions of people are addicted to common, power-dependent medical devices such as oxygen concentrators for chronic conditions that, if left untreated, become acute crises. Most new drugs and virtually all vaccines – including those for Covid-19 – require cold storage and transport, and the rapid shift to telemedicine and its enormous potential depend on the availability of electricity.

Direct Relief’s investments in resilient power have grown rapidly since Hurricane Maria in 2017 left Puerto Rico without power for several months, leading to an ongoing effort to equip health centers and other self-sufficient micronetry facilities that enable sustained operation during outages. . In the wake of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, Direct Relief responded to requests for emergency generators for dozens of health centers and clinics, from Texas to the Carolinas, which lost power during storms. And in its home state of California, the organization has also begun funding solar and backup battery systems at health centers with extreme fire risk. Among them is the Mendocino Coast Clinics, which lost power for three days in 2019. It had no access to electronic health records, laboratory results, prescription information, reports from specialists or lighting during that period. Its doctors worked with camping lights.

Direct Relief’s own 155,000-square-foot headquarters in California, which recently added an additional 5,400 square feet of cold storage to temperature-sensitive medications, is also a standalone “microgrid.” The building includes a Tesla-designed solar cell and a backup battery system to ensure that the life-saving medicine stored there is not destroyed by power outages.

Direct Relief’s philanthropic initiative will provide a necessary boost to the huge nonprofit health safety net found in U.S. tax-based incentives, such as credits or rebates, adopted to encourage adoption and expansion of solar energy production, and backup battery storage provides limited to no incentives to non-profit organizations that are tax-exempt and create an anomaly of non-profit organizations that pay more to install a solar cell and backup system than a homeowner or commercial business does. Overall, nonprofits represent the third largest industry in the United States, by retail and accommodation and food service.

The funding announced today will help Direct Relief scale its efforts to implement resilient power solutions to the country’s health safety net as threats to climate change rise.

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