- The pension funds of four leading health systems invested more than $4.6 billion in fossil fuels, according to a report by the First, Do Not Harm network organization and the Climate Safe Pensions Network, which conservation-focused nonprofit Stand.Earth supports.
- In fossil fuel holdings and investments, Mayo Clinic had $1.45 billion, Kaiser Permanente invested $2.53 billion, HCA Healthcare held $351 million and Ascension Health System had $259 million.
- Together, these four health systems hold at least $774 million of pension funds in companies such as ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobile, according to the report, which calls on healthcare systems to divest of holdings in fossil fuel pensions.
Although more than 1,550 organizations representing more than $40 trillion in assets have divested fossil fuel investments, the healthcare industry lags behind, according to the report.
Medical research links fossil fuel pollution with several illnesses that include cancers, maternal health complications and respiratory conditions, said Don Lieber, surgical technologist and organizer of First, Do No Harm, which is focused on enforcing the Hippocratic Oath by encouraging healthcare professionals to diverse their pension funds from fossil fuels.
“Fossil fuels are the root driver of climate change, widely acknowledged in the health sector as one of the greatest dangers to global public health,” Lieber told Healthcare Dive.
The researchers chose to focus on HCA and Ascension because they are two of the largest health institutions, Lieber said.
“Together, HCA and Ascension manage over 300 hospitals, geographically representing a huge swath across the Southwest and Midwest,” Lieber said. Meanwhile, the researchers focused on Mayo Clinic and Kaiser because they are “household names that the public holds in high regard,” he said.
The report highlights the real-world consequences of climate change’s threats to global health, including tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, and the Willow Drilling Project in Alaska.
“We believe in hospitals — but we want them to do better,” the report stated. However, the report does note efforts by the four hospital systems to address climate change.
“It is our collective moral obligation to reduce our own emissions, protect the health of our communities, and support the vulnerable populations who are most impacted by climate change,” Greg A. Adams, chair and chief executive officer at Kaiser Permanente, said in the report. “We ask others to join us in our pledge, so together we can create a healthier, more equitable, and sustainable path forward.”
Lieber links the stigma against cigarettes to fossil fuels.
“Doctors wouldn’t buy cigarettes for their lung cancer patients, and fossil fuels are the same,” Lieber said. “Oil and gas investments are harmful to public health by enabling fossil fuel extraction and perpetuating pollution.”
In a webinar discussing the report, Marya Zlatnik, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco, discussed the link between climate change and pregnancy. She noted that floods in the United States could lead to healthcare service disruptions, decreased birth weight, neurodevelopmental impacts and an increase in maternal and neonatal morbidity.
The report calls on healthcare organizations to reform their investment practices to correspond with global climate goals and the healthcare industry’s emission reduction commitments. It also recommends that the National Academy of Medicine add the goal of fossil fuel divestment for healthcare sector decarbonization in its Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector.
“It’s simple: Hospital executives and boards must establish fossil fuel exclusion policies for employee pension and retirement accounts,” Lieber said. “We map the human genome; we can divest from fossil fuels.”