Human health and emergency care during flood and storm events

Caitlin Rublee is an emergency medicine physician and assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

John was a middle-aged male who needed oxygen to help him breathe. I met him as he checked into the emergency department late one night. His eyes were fearful; he was sitting up, anxious, and feeling extremely short of breath. The immediate fix was simple: give him oxygen. Once he was more comfortable, John told me the power went out at his home during the storm. He was not expecting bad weather so he didn’t have his back-up generator fueled.

Caitlin Rublee

As an emergency medicine physician, I see patients like John every year. Frequently, I have to admit them to the hospital to receive oxygen therapy until a reliable source of power returns. I also have to treat traumatic injuries, lightning strike injuries, heat-related illnesses, and routine emergencies during extreme weather events. Even days after, it is common for patients to need medication refills or contract diarrheal illnesses from contaminated food or water.

As storms and flooding increase, not only will more people be sent to the emergency room, but hospitals may begin flooding as well. My colleagues and I have cared for critically ill patients on ventilators who have had to be evacuated from other hospitals due to severe flooding. We also get concerned about blocked transportation for employees, ambulances, and helicopters during storms. Any delay in critical care, even a short one, can impact the outcome and recovery of a patient.

I believe high quality emergency care should be accessible to all, especially during severe storms. As climate-driven extreme weather events threaten the health of the youngest to the oldest, I am committed to reducing carbon emissions and building climate resilient health care facilities and communities.

This story is excerpted from from Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health in Wisconsin (pdf)

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and do not represent official policy or position of the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.