Climate Change Planning at Benton County Health Services

Submitted By

Brian Cooke
Benton County Health Services, Oregon
June 20, 2014

Benton County Health Services is as an example of how to incorporate climate change planning at the County level. The Public Health Preparedness Planner used already existing partnerships and planning skills to develop the Climate Change Health Adaptation Plan.

Climate change models are showing that the climate we live in is changing. Specifically in Oregon, trends have shown the average annual temperature increasing 0.13 degrees and the average annual precipitation levels increasing 0.22 inches per decade since 1895. These changes are going to have an increasing negative impact on human health; specifically the health of persons 65 years of age and older, persons who are immunocompromised, asthma, or infants. The aspect of how the climate change will affect the health of all individuals will depend upon the degree of change in the climate, medical histories including pre-existing health conditions of each individual. As the climate changes even persons otherwise considered healthy may begin experiencing increase or prolonged seasonal allergies, heat stress or heat exhaustion. Without planning for the impacts of climate change the health of all individuals within Benton County are at risk.

Benton County Health Services (BCHS) was one of five Counties to receive funding from Oregon Health Authority for two years (2011-2013) through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Climate Change and Health Program. The main focus of the program was to use the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) model that was developed by the CDC as a framework for discussing health implications of climate change. The total amount of funding was $35,000 for a two year period to work on completing the Benton County Health Services Climate Change Health Adaptation Plan.

Public Health Emergency Preparedness Planner (PHEP) was identified as leading the effort to creating the Climate Change Health Adaptation Plan. The PHEP already had established partnerships that would be valuable to the planning process and partnering agencies involved in the planning included the following:

  • Benton County Emergency Management
  • Benton County Environmental Health
  • Benton County Community Development
  • Benton County Health Services
  • Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center
  • Oregon Climate Change Research Institute
  • Oregon Health Authority

The first few meetings were focused on getting a shared understanding of the project. It also allowed for starting the discussion about climate change planning. As the planning effort began to move forward the meetings became more organized. The creation of the Climate Change Health Risk Assessment Model really helped with planning efforts and strengthening partnerships.

Funding was provided for an additional six months to continue the planning efforts in Benton County. County partners were brought together (Emergency Management, Public Works, Community Development, Environmental Health, Benton County Health Services, Oregon State University and Oregon Climate Change Research Institute) to discuss the creation of a draft Benton County Climate Change Adaptation Plan. The extra funding allowed for current relationship to continue the planning effort for climate change.

During the process the PHEP and Oregon Climate Change Research institute worked together, and created the Climate Change Health Risk Assessment Model (download the PDF). This model was built from an emergency preparedness model provided by Oregon Health Authority Health Security Preparedness and Response Division and helped to identify which climate change risk would have the greatest negative health impacts on the community of Benton County. This model was one of the first developed of its kind that addressed climate change risk at the local level.

The Climate Change Health Risk Assessment Model was tested twice, by the same group of individuals. Clicker technology was utilized to help fill out the model. Clickers allowed the ability to provide immediate feedback to the group. The model identified he following three climate change risk as having the greatest impact on Benton County, which helped prioritize planning efforts:

  1. Extreme Heat Events
  2. Extreme Precipitation and Flooding
  3. Wildfires

The Climate Change Health Risk Assessment Model can help health departments with designing their own adaptation plan and talking to partnering agencies about climate change. This model can be adapted to specific programs and not just a broad range of public health related issues. For example, a health department could use the model for Environmental Health to take a look at the effects of climate change on different diseases (i.e. West Nile Virus, etc.). By using this model to take a closer look at the effects of climate change it can help with planning and future costs.

With climate change being so highly politicized it was really hard for me, as the PHEP, to grasp the information. In order for me to think about planning an adaptation strategy for climate change I had to first learn about climate change. I went to the resources (i.e. NOAA, etc.) to learn about climate change, and this helped me to understand how to plan for climate change adaptation.

The second lesson I learned was about how to talk to other partnering agencies about climate change. We plan for winter storms, earthquakes, and other events in our emergency plans. Climate change adaptation is no different than how we plan for other hazardous events. The main difference is that climate change will intensify what we are already used to, and without planning for it we are putting our community at risk.

The next step is to create a County Climate Change Adaptation Plan. These planning efforts are continuing to move forward and it will lead to county agencies incorporating climate adaptation plans. The County Climate Change Adaptation Plan has been presented to the Board of Commissioners to get their feedback and eventually approval and adoption of the plan. During the presentation of the plan to the Board of Commissioners, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were at the meeting to see the planning efforts that were going on in Benton County Oregon. This shows how important the planning effort for climate change is to the State and Federal partners.

2 thoughts on “Climate Change Planning at Benton County Health Services

  1. Tom Kerns
    August 11, 2014 at 3:17 am

    to Brian Cooke

    Thank you for your great work in Benton County.

    I serve on the Lincoln County Public Health Advisory Committee (PHAC) and we are presently considering whether to make climate change one of our 3-4 main priorities for this coming year. I’ve not checked with the rest of our committee yet, but is there any chance you might be interested in coming over to Newport sometime to make a presentation to our PHAC about the value of focusing some of our energies on climate change issues here at the county level?

    Tom Kerns

    1. Brian Cooke
      August 13, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Good morning Mr. Kerns,
      I would be more than happy to come over to Lincoln County and talk with the PHAC group. Please feel free to contact me to work out the details.
      Thank you,
      Brian Cooke

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