PORTLAND, Oregon — As the historic heat wave ramped up last week, Dr. Page Jossi dropped in on seniors in Multnomah County as part of her work with the nonprofit Housecall Providers.
The group offers in-home health care to seriously ill people. It has treated about 12,000 over the last 25 years.
“I was specifically at one patient’s earlier in the week and noticed that she had this nice air conditioner in the window and it was not turned on. And she did not have the capability to get up to turn it on," Dr. Jossi said. "So I turned it on myself while I was there, then I called her daughter-in-law and said, 'Please be sure somebody is coming in here over the weekend.' This was actually before the heat wave."
The patient survived but many others in Oregon, most of which lived in the Portland area, did not.
“It doesn’t surprise me but it’s very saddening because its preventable," Dr. Jossi said. "It’s not like the natural disaster happens and then you’re cleaning up afterward. It’s like, we know it’s coming and there are things we can do to help.”
Laura Golino de Lovato is executive director of the nonprofit Northwest Pilot Project, which helps about 600 low-income seniors in Multnomah County get and keep housing every year.
She shared a similar sentiment as Dr. Jossi in regard to older Oregonians who didn't survive the heat wave.
“I wasn’t and those in my agency were not as surprised because the heat was so extreme. It was so extreme and it went on for so long, and we know that older adults are very vulnerable,” she said.
None of the deaths appear to be clients of either agency. But it begs the question, what can we as individuals do the next time an extreme heat event happens?
“Get to know your elderly neighbors now,” said Golino de Lovato.
“Don’t be a stranger, get to know them now. And when the forecast comes along that is saying it’s going to be an extreme weather condition, you can then reach out to them,” she added.
Dr. Jossi agrees. She said next time, we should not just ask over the phone if they're okay because they might fib. Go into their home to check on them if you can.
"Going in physically and seeing the environment and testing out you know, how cool it is. Having things like air conditioners and fans so that the air is actually moving and is cool," Jossi said. "Being sure that they’re hydrated and that they have access to liquids whether that’s next to them if they can’t get up or things in their fridge."
She said one of the big dangers for seniors is dehydration.
“We do know that older adults and seniors are more vulnerable to heat because just their age ... Not as able to tolerate the heat. Not sweating as much as normal people may do," Jossi said. "They’re also really susceptible to dehydration because a lot of the medications they’re taking and just not having good oral intake on a good day. So, they are very vulnerable."
She suggested offering for a senior to come hang out at your home if theirs is hot and yours has air conditioning. If they won’t come over, try to get them to a cooling center. If they’re not willing to do that, you may want to drop by a couple times a day to check on them until the weather event passes.
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