British Columbia’s health minister is promising an “all hands on deck” approach and improved response as the province grapples with its second heat wave of the summer.
At a Friday briefing, Adrian Dix said the province’s ambulance service and hospitals are geared up for a potential spike in heat-related illnesses.
It comes after the province faced significant criticism over its handling of the summer’s first heat wave, which the BC Coroners Service has blamed for at least 570 deaths.
The province shook up the ambulance service in the wake of the heat wave, creating a new chief ambulance officer position in response.
“If you or a loved one experiences heat-related illness and you need help, please call 911,” Dix said.
“The BC Ambulance Service is ready to save you. The new chief ambulance officer is taking steps to ensure people who call for help get help quickly.”
Dix said the BCAS had activated its provincial emergency operations centre — something that wasn’t done until heat began to subside during the last heat wave — and had deployed clinicians to help 911 operators deal with an increase in calls.
It was also supporting paramedics with water, Gatorade, and a relaxed dress code to allow for heat-appropriate clothing.
Hospital managers have been tasked with helping ensure patients are transferred quickly from ambulances, and BC Emergency Health Service management was tasked to help with 911 call centres, he said.
The province was also activating rural on-call paramedics to full-time shifts on weekends, and re-deploying community paramedics to help in some areas, Dix said. Rural part-time paramedics have complained about understaffing, driven in part by the low pay assessed to on-call work.
Virtually all of southern B.C. is currently under an Environment Canada heat warning, with daytime highs of up to 30 C in parts of the Lower Mainland and 35 C in the Interior.
B.C. Centre for Disease Control director of environmental health Dr. Sarah Henderson urged people to check in on isolated and vulnerable people, especially seniors, people living alone and people with chronic physical or mental health issues.
“People may not always perceive that they are getting too hot, when we have passive indoor heat, it can become dangerous overwhelming without people even realizing it,” she said.
“So ask questions. Ask what it says on the thermostat, ask when they last drank water, ask what colour their urine is — dark or small amount of urine is an indicator of potentially dangerous dehydration.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province was working with local governments and health authorities to ensure people had access to cooling centres in their region.
He said anyone looking for information on how to stay safe in the heat should go to the province’s “one stop shop” at EmergencyInfoBC.