Reflecting on it, after a thankfully cool and rainy spring in June, 2022, Dr. Merritt wrote this piece to his colleagues at Kootenay Lake Hospital:
"Last year at this time, we saw an unprecedented number of patients presenting symptoms of acute and subacute heat stress in the KLH emergency department. This trend was attributed to the heat dome that we experienced in Nelson during late June to early July. This high-pressure system trapped hot air in our atmosphere for several days, with temperatures remaining stagnant throughout the evening and nighttime hours. In years prior, temperatures would normally drop off overnight, providing more opportunity for people to cool down.
This unusual weather event presented challenges in emergency departments across the Kootenay Boundary. The effects of climate change and the accompanying impacts on community health proved to be unpredictable and unlike anything we had seen before. We had to quickly adapt to the high number of patients that required treatment for heat-related illnesses. In the event that we are faced with a similar event this year, I have included a list of helpful resources at the bottom of this article so that we can be better prepared to handle it.
The effects of the heat dome are particularly concerning for seniors and people who are living with mental illness and chronic illness. Medical frailty and social isolation can prevent people from seeking help and being able to cool themselves appropriately. According to the BC Coroners Service, 619 deaths were identified as heat-related between June 25 and July 1, 2021 and were comprised of mostly older adults with existing health concerns who lived alone. Ninety-eight percent of these deaths occurred indoors.
The Coroner’s report calls our attention to the number of people in our communities who are isolated and our need as a community to adapt to the extreme weather events we are seeing as a result of climate change. While it is important for us as physicians to address the effects of climate change in relation to health, I would also like to stress that these preventable deaths are a public concern. I hope that these statistics will open the door for more dialogue about heat-related deaths and illness to encourage our community to implement strategies that will keep our most vulnerable members safe during times of extreme heat."
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