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Sen. Markey announces climate change bill at Baystate Medical Center

Ed Markey visits Baystate Hospital to discuss Green Hospitals Act
Caitlin Reardon / NEPM
Ed Markey visits Baystate Hospital to discuss Green Hospitals Act

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, visited Baystate Hospital in Springfield Wednesday to announce the Granting Resources for Eliminating Emissions Now (GREEN) Hospitals Act.

The legislation acts as an extension to the Green New Deal for Health – which Markey and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, introduced in April – and focuses on climate resiliency in health facilities and their communities.

The announcement comes a day after the USDA issued a disaster declaration for the seven counties in Massachusetts severely damaged by flooding, triggering emergency and refinanced loan options for affected farmers.

"Those farmers in western Massachusetts now have a disaster declaration and we know that, that disaster was fueled by climate change," Markey said.

The declaration follows an estimated 110 farms and 2,700 acres impacted by the mid-July flooding, state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle said, adding up to about $15 million in losses.

The declaration means farmers can apply for emergency loans from the federal government to replace equipment and other essential items, cover production costs for this year, and to help refinance other loans growers may have. The state has also approved $20 million in direct payments to those impacted. Some other organizations are also offering various forms of assistance.

As natural disasters and temperatures increase at a historic rate (July is reported as Earth’s hottest month ever, the Copernicus Climate Change Service reported), Markey said corresponding health issues are on the rise.

Markey, who also visited flooded agricultural sites in Conway, discussed an intersection of the climate crisis with health providers and resources.

“The health care system can’t run on dirty energy, contributing to what’s making us ill while trying to make us healthy. Health care workers shouldn’t have to treat patients under the crumbling infrastructure that makes people sicker,” Markey said.

The legislation seeks to invest $100 billion into “reviving” the Hill-Burton grant program with a focus towards funding infrastructure and services designed for climate resiliency. Health facilities must commit to provide patients unable to afford care with free or reduced-cost care, prioritizing a need to serve underrepresented communities who are disproportionately affected by climate change. The bill also invests $5 billion for planning grants, allowing medical facilities to assess needs in tackling a climate resiliency project.

“The GREEN Hospitals Act would help guarantee a future where, when a climate-fueled crisis strikes, people can be sure that their hospital, Baystate Hospital, will stay open to treat them. It would help guarantee a future where hospitals are treating patients and the planet,” Markey said.

After signing onto the Health and Human Services Office of Climate Change and Health Equity’s Health Sector Pledge last year, Baystate has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17%.

Baystate Health’s Sustainability and Energy Coordinator Ariana Walker said the institution’s Climate Resiliency Plan will be released to the public by the end of this year. They hope to reduce emissions by an additional 33% by 2030.

Walker said Baystate has already initiated climate-conscious efforts, and has plans to further these actions through infrastructure and education. She noted some have misconceptions that green energy is expensive, but said government incentives like Markey’s would help to normalize the costs.

“If our goal is to shift towards a more green economy, we need those incentives to kind of act as a buffer while the market normalizes and these existing technologies and green technologies eventually will be cost neutral…having incentive money and different programs like that available, it’s kind of pivotal,” Walker said.

Adam Frenier contributed to this article.

Full disclosure: Baystate Health is a sponsor of New England Public Media. Our news department operates independently.