Home Health Heat Stress Heat realities: air conditioners for isolated seniors

Heat realities: air conditioners for isolated seniors

adrian dix, sonia furstenau
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix at media session & BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau in the Legislative Assembly, May 11, 2023. [Composite - Island Social Trends]

Thursday May 11, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated May 13, 2023]

by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends

After the heat dome of June 2021 by which 619* people died related to overheating, last year the BC Coroner recommended that air conditioner units be provided to the target demographic of those who died.

[* Deaths were determined as ‘excess deaths’ over the usual number of people who would have died in that time period in BC.]

That target demographic is seniors who may lack the mobility, resources or network to seek a cooler location in the community, or those whose income and/or living conditions find them in spaces without air cooling and/or adequate ventilation or another space in the unit where temperatures are cooler.

extreme heat, guide, bc
Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide by PreparedBC. Available online and in print. [released May 2023]

Today in the BC Legislative Assembly BC Greens Leader Sonia Furstenau asked the government about their progress with providing air conditioners to the mostly older seniors who are living independently and are without the capacity to protect themselves from extreme heat.

Today BC Health Minister Adrian Dix said that attention to air cooling has been dealt with in long-term care and assisted living facilities as well as making sure that protocols for on-site cool air are being adhered to in home care scenarios.

As for those living independently in the community, Dix says more information is coming in a report that will be available by June 30, 2023.

Also in that June 2023 report will be content about “working with municipalities”. That could be just about the provision of cooling centres but perhaps also about how at-risk residents (independent-living seniors and those with chronic health conditions) are being found and identified in communities.

heat, prepare, emergency, jdf

The report might also include information about any contact the provincial government may have had with the apartment rental owner sector. How receptive is that housing-investment sector to installing air-conditioners (or heat pump systems) in their buildings. Rents are already high pretty much everywhere across BC, far higher than previously standard rent-to-income ratios have been. Building owners or landlords would probably pass on the additional cost of providing air conditioning.

Somewhat unique to BC:

Until the last few years the climate and weather patterns of the southern regions of British Columbia were generally moderate, i.e. no summer heat extremes and in winter not a lot of snow.

As such, housing construction has in many cases not included air conditioning for cooling in summer. It was non-air conditioned small apartment and condo units in larger cities where most of the heat-related deaths occurred during the June 2021 heat waves.

Hottest days for May:

The heat dome in June 2021 set heat awareness on a new path.

langford, building cities

And now for this upcoming weekend into next week (approximately May 12 to 16) temperatures will reach high levels (possibly even record-setting) for the month of May. This will be the hottest stretch of weather to date in 2023 for most areas of BC.

Role of media:

Minister Dix today said the media plays a vital role in informing people about heat alerts and emergencies. This weekend temperatures are expected to break record highs, but will fall enough at night to not qualify these next five or six days as an extreme heat emergency.

Extreme heat:

Emergency Preparedness BC provides information about preparing for extreme heat. Most important is to stay hydrated.

“It is important to stay safe during such extreme temperatures. Avoid working or intense exercising if it is very hot or humid outside, and head for cooler conditions if your body becomes overheated. If working outdoors is necessary, drink plenty of liquids and take frequent rest breaks. Be sure to maintain salt levels in your body and avoid high-protein foods. Pets also need to be protected from the heat, giving them plenty of water to drink. Watch for severe medical conditions, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”

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mary p brooke
Mary P Brooke, Editor, Island Social Trends

Island Social Trends is a professional news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca . Fully online as a daily news portal since mid-2020, Island Social Trends emerged from previous print publications in the west shore: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).

Since 2008, journalist and editor Mary P Brooke has taken a socioeconomic lens to reporting and analyzing the news of the west shore and the south Vancouver Island region, including BC and national news impacts. [See Island Social Trends Politics Archive]. As of 2023 she reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery.

Mary P Brooke has also focused on news of Sooke School District 62 at the board level since 2014 [see Island Social Trends Education archive]. During 2020, 2021 and into 2022 she reported daily to build a COVID pandemic archive.