Excessive heat could kill more Americans as the environment warms

According to a report out by Climate Central, if environmental regulations are not tightened, more excessive heat days will occur as we head towards the end of the century. This will cause an increase in heat-related deaths, especially in Northern states where people aren't as acclimated to hot temperatures.

Posted: Jun 29, 2020 8:08 PM
Updated: Jun 30, 2020 10:21 AM

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) - Summertime has become a struggle for people like Rusty Beauchamp. Sitting in her home, shades closed and lights off, trying to keep cool.

In the Summer of 2019, when heat indices peaked in the mid-100s, Beauchamp's air conditioner went out, forcing her to sit and wait until nighttime, when it might get cooler.

"Last summer was really bad," Beauchamp said. "We had all the windows and doors, and everything open. We couldn’t stay cool because we didn’t have any of these small air conditioners. This year we borrowed the small air conditioners from friends, so it’s a little bit better."

This summer, she has relief from three small window air conditioners, but she doesn’t have much hope for them.

"I don’t imagine these little units will last much longer. They’re older and next week it’s going to get really hot, so I’m not really sure how I’m going to deal with that. I may go stay with my daughter," Beauchamp said.

Rusty is just one of many throughout the region and tens of thousands throughout the country who have to suffer through the excessive heat without immediate relief, and that problem could be getting worse.

According to a report out by Climate Central, scientists know that as we head towards the end of the century more excessive heat days will occur. This will cause an increase in heat-related deaths, especially here in Northern states where we’re not as acclimated to hot temperatures.

Senior citizens, those with underlying health conditions and on medications are particularly vulnerable according to the report.
John Falatko, DO, with Parkview, who was not involved with the repor explains why.

"As the body ages, it becomes more frail, especially to our environments and the exchange that they'll face with our environment, so the medications help compound that. Sometimes, it can make it more difficult," Falatko said. "They need the medicines to keep them alive and keep them healthy during normal conditions, but during extreme conditions, they can work against them."

These medications can make it hard to stay hydrated, and cause our bodies problems with breathing and regulating temperature.

For someone like Rusty, she had COPD, Arthritis, Asthma and other health problems that make her more susceptible to heat illness or death.

Not only that, living on limited income means you have to choose between other necessities and fixing your air conditioning.

Beauchamp lives in her mobile home with just her son. Their household income is below poverty level according to her. Beauchamp said, "Basically air conditioning is a luxury at the point now because I have other things that I need to take care of that are more important." 

Katie Hougham with Aging and In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana says the excessive heat is a problem every summer, but COVID-19 is causing people to second guess one of the safety precautions when it comes to extreme heat. 

"To combine that [excessive heat] with COVID where maybe they would go and stay with their daughter for a couple of days when the temps are really high and now they're not wanting to intermingle in that way, it's that much more scary," Hougham said.

In the long term, authors of the study say we need to create stricter environmental regulations to make sure the number of days of excessive heat is close to normal, causing fewer heat-related deaths. In the short-term, there are things we can do to help protect people like Rusty.

During excessive heat:

  • Knock on your neighbors' door to see if they’re alright. Both Falatko and Hougham say this is the #1 thing to do.
  • Try and get relief from air conditioning, fans, cooling centers.
  • Check with your doctors to see if your meds can cause you problems.
  • If you live in Fort Wayne city limits, applying to the Homeowner Repair Loan Program could help get the relief you need.

During the interview is when Rusty found out that a loan program like that existed. She said, "That’s fantastic because I didn’t know there was a program like that. I would have air conditioner fixed and my furnace, and everything a lot sooner."

If you're someone who needs help with getting relief from excessive heat, reach out to your township trustee's office or call 211 to get connected with an agency that may be able to help you.

To apply to the Homeowner Repair Loan Program, click here.

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