Local governments on Vancouver Island urged to support wellness checks during hot temperatures

Local governments on Vancouver Island urged to support wellness checks during hot temperatures
People pack Willows Beach in Oak Bay on July 28, 2022 to cool off amid a heat wave in southern B.C. (Nicholas Pescod/CHEK News)

With heat warnings in effect and the memory of a deadly heat dome still fresh in minds, local governments on Vancouver Island have mobilized how to respond to heat-related emergencies.

A review of 619 lives lost during the heat dome of June 2021 was released by the BC Coroners Service on June 7. Fifty-five of those deaths occurred in the Island Health region. Of all the lives lost across the province, 67 per cent were age 70 or older and 56 per cent lived alone. Over 60 per cent had seen a medical professional within the month prior to their death.

The report suggests local governments consider how to support wellness checksDuring last year’s heat dome, 98 per cent of the deaths occurred indoors and half of those who died were found during a wellness check carried out by family, friends, support workers or health workers out of concern for their well-being, or were conducted by police following someone reporting concern for an individual’s well-being.

Under its second recommendation to identify and support vulnerable populations during extreme heat events, the report writers indicate the Union of BC Municipalities will review and consider the adoption of community wellness checks at its next meeting. The union’s next convention is in September.

The Regional District of Nanaimo says it has implemented strategies to support wellness checks including promoting check-ins with neighbours, family, friends and vulnerable individuals; and is encouraging residents to have a heat preparedness plan and to identify heat buddies for check-ins. The regional district says it continues to partner with community organizations over well-being issues. In 2021, it supported promotion of Oceanside Community Safety Volunteers’ Keeping in Touch program, which involves volunteers making daily calls to seniors or individuals who live alone and may have medical issues or are recovering from a hospital stay.

The RDN is also enhancing its emergency response plans to include strategies for extreme heat.

“In preparation for future heat-related events, the RDN has drafted a heat response operational guide with thresholds established in conjunction with Environment Canada and the BC Heat Alert Response System to support coordination, communications and local response activities,” Catherine Morrison, RDN manager of emergency services, said.

Actions in the operational guide are triggered by the province’s two heat alert categories announced earlier this year as part of its heat alert and response system: heat warnings and extreme heat emergencies. RDN actions could include updates on its extreme weather alert webpage, which will detail cooling strategies and public cooling spaces; emergency alerts via the Voyent Alert system, social media, news releases and print posters; and providing bottled water.

The RDN has also held coordination calls with Emergency Management BC and Island Health about responding to heat events.

In advance of this week’s anticipated heat wave, the RDN released a public notice on July 22 with tips on how to cope with high temperatures and included cooling centres in the region. On Gabriola, the museum, library and seniors’ centre are available to cool off. Check each facilities’ hours of operation for details. Best practices for handling extreme heat include staying hydrated; closing windows, drapes and shades during the hottest hours of the day to trap cooler air inside, generally between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.; cooling your body by taking a shower, bath or using a damp towel; and using fans overnight to circulate air.

The province has also released an extreme heat preparedness guide with tips on how to include heat-related considerations in individual emergency plans.

Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Gabriola Sounder/The Canadian Press

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