Nursing Homes Wrestle with Climate Change, HVAC Demands

For Washington’s long-term care facilities, recent heatwave underscored growing need for air conditioning

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor, Facility Market
July 13, 2021

Healthcare facilities nationwide are feeling the impact of climate change. Common conversations regarding preparing facilities for what lies ahead revolve around more hurricanes along the Atlantic coast and rising coastal waters everywhere. Now, add heat and HVAC considerations to the growing list of impacts many facilities will have to address.

As temperatures soared to historic highs recently, Providence Mount St. Vincent, a five-story brick building in Seattle, baked under the sun. With no central air conditioning, the nearly 100-year-old building and its 300 senior residents relied on portable AC units, fans and larger-scale cooling units borrowed from hospitals, according to The Seattle Times. Employees, already wearing face masks and shields to prevent COVID-19, wore ice-soaked cloths around their necks.

The heat wave brought the hottest days ever recorded in Seattle. For the state’s approximately 4,000 long-term care facilities — which must comply with varying state regulations for cooling — the extreme temperatures underscored the need for air conditioning in the future, when experts say more heat waves should be expected as a result of climate change.

Nursing homes built after 2000 must have air conditioning, according to the state’s Department of Social and Health Services. But many were built before 2000, and their operators struggle to generate the capital funds needed to repair or upgrade HVAC systems.

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