70% of sudden deaths during recent B.C. heat wave tied to extreme temperatures, coroner says

Click to play video: 'Governments and medical officials trying to learn some of the lessons from June’s record-breaking heat dome'
Governments and medical officials trying to learn some of the lessons from June’s record-breaking heat dome
Cooling centres have been opened and the warnings have been issued to look out for those vulnerable to the latest heat wave. That comes as the B.C. Coroners Service releases more details about those who perished from the heat-related emergency at the end of June. – Jul 29, 2021

B.C.’s chief coroner says 70 per cent of sudden and unexpected deaths during a recent heat wave were tied to extreme temperatures.

Lisa Lapointe said Thursday that there were 815 deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service between June 25 and July 1, a 300-per-cent increase over what they would normally see during that week.

Lapointe said a preliminary review found that 570 of the deaths were heat-related.

Click to play video: 'E-Comm warns about potential long waits for 911 calls during heat wave'
E-Comm warns about potential long waits for 911 calls during heat wave

“What that means is but for the heat, they would not have died on that day,” she said.

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“Some did have other underlying medical conditions, but they were not expected to die at that time and the extreme heat is what precipitated their deaths.”

Lapointe said 79 per cent of people who died from heat-related issues were 65 years old or older and 40 per cent were over the age of 80.

Click to play video: 'BC Paramedics brace for more hot weather'
BC Paramedics brace for more hot weather

“It is unprecedented,” she said. “It’s just hard to wrap your head around that many people dying in this province in one week due to extreme heat. We just have never seen that number of fatalities in this province related to heat. In fact, we’ve rarely seen fatalities related to heat in this province because we have not had that kind of sustained extreme heat.”

Read more: ‘This isn’t a heat wave issue’: B.C. paramedics say there’s a systemic crisis in emergency care

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A joint statement issued Thursday by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) and West Coast Environmental Law Association estimated the recent heat dome may have also led to 5,000 to 6,000 injuries.

The groups urged the province to tell physicians and health authorities to change their billing system to better track heat-related injuries.

Click to play video: 'Protecting seniors from heat related illness and death'
Protecting seniors from heat related illness and death

“I think our province has to send direction to physicians to add a code for heat illness or injury to their diagnoses when they’re billing so that we can fully appreciate exactly what’s happening,” Dr. Melissa Lem of CAPE said.

“When I see a patient who has multiple issues, I don’t always bill every issue. So for example, if I see a patient who has a headache because of heat exhaustion, I might just bill ‘headache’ without including that extra heat code. So I think we have to actually code these climate-related events into our medical systems and into our billing so we can extract the data better and prepare in the future.”

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Read more: Parts of B.C. could see temperatures in the 30s later this week, Environment Canada says

High temperatures are in the forecast for parts of B.C., and E-Comm has already warned of the potential for high call volumes and lengthy waits on non-emergency lines.

Lapointe says the recent heat dome highlights the need to care for older people who are more at risk.

“If you have a loved one or a family member or a colleague or a friend or a neighbour who may be at risk because of their living situation, please check in on them,” she said.

“It’s about community and reaching out to look out for each other and those who are more vulnerable may need the assistance of their loved ones and their neighbours.”

— With files from Neetu Garcha

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