Protecting the Most Vulnerable from the Heat of Climate Change
DDA talks with Jeanne Hansen who's sister, Tracey McKinley, who suffered mental health issues, died in the heat dome of 2021. Despite new government policy, what can we do to better protect people who can't protect themselves?
Evan Kelly 0:05
So welcome back to DDA's Encouraging Abilities podcast. This is where we connect with advocates in the disability community, help tell their stories, raising disability awareness and be a supporter and advocate for them as well. For those who don't know about DDA, we are a community living agency that serves Vancouver and Richmond. We support roughly 2000 clients with developmental disabilities and their families and have been doing so since about 1952. In fact, this is our 70th anniversary year. So as we head into summer 2022, we've just passed the first sort of hot weekend, I guess, you remember last year when over 600 people in BC died as a result of the heat dome that settled over the province in early July. The unprecedented weather system showed a lot of vulnerabilities and how the province operates and transmits crucial information to better protect those who can't easily protect themselves. So that of course includes people we look after at DDA. Many people with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, can leave people unable to regulate their own body heat. So protecting them becomes very important. And sometimes when people with disabilities or even mental health conditions, can't properly communicate, if something is wrong, so that becomes very problematic. So today we are joined by Jeanne Hansen. Last year, she lost her sister, Tracey McKinlay, who suffered from schizophrenia to the extreme heat and is now advocating for change, for better education and compassion for the most vulnerable people in society when it comes to weather. So welcome to our podcast, Jeanne. It's very nice to have you here. Right from the start, condolences for the loss of your sister Tracey, who you said, just know that today's the anniversary.
Jeanne Hansen 1:50
The one year anniversary, thank you for your condolences.
Evan Kelly 1:53
That's, you know, that's very very difficult to take, of course, and we really appreciate you being here. So tell us a little bit about what your sister was like.
Jeanne Hansen 2:03
Gosh, what wasn't she like, she was a pretty awesome sister. She did have schizophrenia, which caused her to have lots of different issues over the years. But she always did it with kindness and humor, very, very witty humor, and love for everybody and anyone. So she was a very kind soul who everybody in New Westminster where she lived knew her. It didn't matter what we were doing, where we were going, if we were shopping, or out for lunch, or just walking around and going to Timmies for a double double. Everybody knew Tracy, everybody had nice things to say to her and about her.
Evan Kelly 2:48
Her illness, schizophrenia, did that limit what she could do in terms of employment? How does she function in her own life?
Jeanne Hansen 2:55
Yes, she did live on her own. She did have support, of course from family and as well as the SIL program, the semi-independent living program and mental health in New Westminster. But the stresses of everyday life that we just face normally she couldn't handle so she didn't have a nine to five job or any job really, and but she did function well in her life that she did live on her own.
Evan Kelly 3:23
Now, you said early in another news piece that the medication she took to battle, her mental illness damaged her kidneys, which the heat exacerbated, which ultimately led to her death. How do we as a society inform ourselves that this could even be a risk, like that might for people that might not even enter their consciousness, as something you need to consider?
Jeanne Hansen 3:44
Well, we certainly didn't have a clue that it would have the effect as quickly and as damaging as it did. We knew she had issues with her kidneys, we would always go with doctor appointments and stuff like that. So we were very well involved with her overall health as well as her mental health. Her kidney function was anywhere between 15 and 20% and had been for quite a few years. So they were doing things to kind of get her ready to the possibility of ever having to have dialysis but she wasn't close to that yet. Knowing what we know now, not really realizing that all these different things can make things worse for people more susceptible for people with the heat, not just kidney but liver damage, high blood pressure, certain medications that you're on can make you more susceptible. Antihistamines, for example, we were talking about allergies coming in and that can make you not feel the heat. Make things worse for you, antidepressants, antipsychotics, certain antibiotics, there's lots of different medications that you should be aware can lead to you having difficulty with realizing what the heat is doing to you. You don't have to have a lot of damage to your body in order for these things to make a difference, and I'm certainly not saying don't take those medications, they serve their purposes. But certainly speak to your doctors and that sort of thing about seeing how the heat can affect you.
Evan Kelly 5:16
Yeah. And she, didn't know she, you mentioned that she lived with an assisted living.
Jeanne Hansen 5:20
Not assisted living, no, she lived on her own. But she did have a group that helped her with living on her own that was semi independent living. So she would be, you know, taken out and shown how to shop for herself and different things like that.
Evan Kelly 5:38
Right, so there was someone sort of checking on her, in a way. And so there was nothing, there's no red flag or anything like that, at that point in your mind to say that, that wasn't enough to protect people like this, from the heat or things seemed normal? And was this, I guess, was that a kind of a surprise here?
Jeanne Hansen 5:58
Very much so. And it was to everybody involved with Tracey as well, there, there is no one entity, one group, one person, the government, paramedics corner, anybody to blame, in all this, it's either all or none. We need to take responsibility for ourselves. And if we can't, then there's, the people that do caretake for us, our loved ones or family members, the people if we are in any sort of program, where we are being watched, even people who do live in homes that are... have caretakers in that there. We didn't know, we didn't realize how bad it was, we didn't realize that it would be you know, it just never crossed our minds. My other sister Jane and I, we would call Tracy and check in on her and she'd always "Oh, I'm fine. I'm fine, I'm fine." And even the people that lived in the building where she lived, it's a nonprofit run building. And they were doing their damnedest to go around and knock on doors, morning, afternoon, evening, checking on everybody to see how they're doing. And they didn't know and they're not to blame either. But they have the guilt associated with it, too. Nobody truly knows exactly what's going on inside the body. And if someone doesn't have the ability to say, "Hey, I'm feeling this way," or whatever, you know, sometimes these symptoms of heat exhaustion, and heatstroke can be just ignored or mistaken for some issue that they might have physically already. Or they just don't know what to communicate how they're feeling.
Evan Kelly 7:32
Yeah, that's that's obviously the biggest sort of the biggest piece there. So it's clear you don't believe assigning blame is productive, of course. But where do you think we need to be directing our energy instead?
Jeanne Hansen 7:44
Well, I sat back for the last year and just kind of thought of different things, but was waiting to see what would come up out of this report from the coroner's office, what the government might want to do, no point reinventing the wheel, if there's things that are going to be put into place. But there's a lot of gaps in what's come out that need to be filled. A lot of it is just awareness, and trying to figure out different ways to fill those gaps. And sometimes, there's not enough funding, there's not enough time, there's not enough people, there's not enough for the government to do. So it's kind of up to us to take some personal responsibility to try and fill those gaps. And that's what I'm trying to do.
Evan Kelly 8:31
And you're creating sort of I guess we've got a Facebook page up and what else are you doing to try and raise awareness to get people motivated to sort of, you know, maybe look out for each other a little better?
Jeanne Hansen 8:41
Well, a lot of things like this, media, we've done some reports, some print, some news reports, the Facebook page, email, anybody can reach out and say, hey, what can I do? Can I donate a fan? Can I, I work for an air conditioning company, and I want to see about what we can do to help, or just... it doesn't have to be money. It doesn't have to be anything like that. If you don't have those, maybe you live in a building that is a little bit older that doesn't have central AC or anything like that. And maybe you can volunteer to coordinate door knockers in your building to just go and check on people. It can be something as simple as just putting a signup sheet down in your lobby that anybody can sign up for and say they are they want to be a volunteer to help knock on doors or they want to be put on a list to make sure that someone comes check in on them.
Evan Kelly 9:40
Now you do have a Facebook page do you have the handle for them?
Jeanne Hansen 9:44
It's Tracey's legacy, "T-r-a-c-e-y-s-l-e-g-a-c-y," it is a Facebook group and there is a Facebook page and they'll direct to each other.
Now what is, what can people find on this Facebook page?
Oh just information they can reach out through the Facebook page if they need some assistance if they need some direction as to where to go, what to do, awareness things we do posts about simple things that people can do for themselves and for their loved ones to help stave off the heat to keep their core temperatures down, doesn't have to be 40 degrees outside just as much as 30, 32. And you can start having some issues with heat exhaustion, which then can lead to heat stroke and possibly death. It doesn't have to be air conditioning units in every building. Sometimes that's not possible. I know a lot of people will say things about oh, we need, the government needs to give everybody an air conditioning unit. Oh, you know, it's there's older buildings that can't support it electrically. There's issues with people not understanding how to run it, there's people that are afraid that they run it that now their heating bills, or their electricity bill is going to go up too high, and they can't afford to pay it. There's certain issues with people who do have those, but aren't allowed to use them by their, either their strata or the building manager because it ruins the aesthetics of the building outside. So they don't want to have those. So there's certain rules and things that could be advocated for to make some changes, to make sure people are able to cool down their buildings, just because the temperature cools down outside at night, some of these buildings will keep retaining it like a convection oven.
Evan Kelly 11:35
So there, certainly there's lots of bylaws or whatever rules or strata rules, things can be put in place. But to me, it just seems like you know, we all have, we all have relatives, we all have older people in our lives, we all have people with disabilities in our lives, I mean, 25% of the country, say they have a disability, we've got people with mental illness issues. Seems to me we really, as a society have to be just more aware of these people in our lives. And be more compassionate.
Jeanne Hansen 12:05
Yeah. And the awareness is the biggest thing right now. Everybody's aware of what happened last year, and it's to keep the awareness going that you know, this issue with temperatures getting hotter, and that sort of thing is not going away. And just making sure that, you know, the first thing we should be doing is making a plan. Making a plan for ourselves, making a plan for our loved ones, making a plan for clients and that sort of thing to know, okay, this is the steps we need to take. This is how we need to build the information to get to people that's easy to follow. Things that are easy to do and inexpensive to do to help them keep cooler, and have that plan ready. So that when things do start heating up, they can start enacting some of those plans.
Evan Kelly 12:58
You know, the government has put in a new BC heat alert and response system. Any thoughts on that? Like, I'll just give it the the old list here that number one is they want to coordinate a provincial heat alert response system. I'm not sure what that is necessarily going to entail.
Jeanne Hansen 13:16
I know they want to put out some sort of warning system that kind of beeps on our cell phones and stuff like that, if there is an extreme heat advisory, that's great for someone like me, that might not be paying attention to the heat and might not be feeling the effects of it that I can go, okay, hey, we've got this plan, and we need to start enacting it. But there's a lot of people like Tracey didn't have a cell phone, didn't go on the computer. She didn't have any, didn't really watch the news. So she wouldn't have really benefited from that. And there's a lot of other people that wouldn't either.
Evan Kelly 13:45
Absolutely lots of the a lot of our seniors don't have the latest tech stuff. So that becomes a communication gap. How do we get that information to them and ensure that they're not, that they're actually using that information and protecting themselves and are we're helping prepare.
Jeanne Hansen 14:00
The kind of a care watch, I just kind of dubbed it instead of a block watch, a care watch where if you set something up in your building, that you can then go around and slip things under the door or put them in the mailboxes or something to let people know, hey, this is what's coming, and the warnings out and if you need any assistance or whatever, then let us know.
Evan Kelly 14:22
Now like I was just going through that list. So the number one was a coordinated provincial heat alert response system. Number two, ensuring vulnerable populations are identified and supported during extreme events again, like that sort of care watch you're talking about. And that is, the care watch is not a government program. That's just something...
Jeanne Hansen 14:41
I came up with right off the top of the head, yeah.
Evan Kelly 14:43
And number three is implement extreme heat prevention of long term risk mitigation strategies. That might, who knows what that might involve might be bigger, bigger picture.
Jeanne Hansen 14:56
I think that's what they were meaning when they were talking about how they want to change the bylaws. So that all buildings built after a certain date have to have central AC and stuff like that. And that's going to be great for anything in the future. But it's certainly not going to change anything for the buildings as they are now.
Evan Kelly 15:11
Yeah. And that's, that's obviously the, the key. And again, how best, how can we better address that communication gap between us and those who are more, more vulnerable.
Jeanne Hansen 15:24
Again, being more aware like that, that warning will go out to the general population. And if you already are aware that there is an effective heat on your loved one, and you have that plan, now already planned for and built in as to what you want to do, then that alert that you receive means you enact it. So you're going physically to check on the person, we were just phoning Tracey to check in on her. We didn't know how hot it was in her apartment. It wasn't till we went a few days later to clean it out that we realize, holy smokes, it's like 45 in her apartment, it was very hot. And we had to keep taking breaks. And and we're very aware, it was, it was more like a convection oven. That's what I keep referring to it. The building in itself, the ventilation, just the windows weren't large enough, it was large windows, there's no reflection tape or anything like that on the outside of the building itself to kind of reflect some of that heat away. So there's lots of different things.
Evan Kelly 16:31
You don't, in your mind find the building owners or anybody partially responsible, or is that something that needs to be addressed?
Jeanne Hansen 16:38
No, I don't, like again, there's nobody to blame. It's, it's what's happened. Now we know about it. Now we know different things that could be done about it. And a lot of times, it's not until an event like this happens, where we really want to kick it into gear, and to say, okay, you know, unfortunately, these poor 619 confirmed so far souls have passed away because of this heat. Now we're aware of it, now we need to take the steps to do something about it. A lot of these buildings where these folks live are nonprofit buildings, you know, they don't necessarily get the government funding, there are different funds that are out there that people could apply for, different grants and that, they're just not aware of it. So now they're starting to learn that they're aware of it and can make applications to get that funding to put the film on the windows, to put cooling centers in the buildings themselves where these people live, the cooling centres are awesome, that's part of the plan for the province to have more cooling centers available. But there's not necessarily, excuse me, a lot of people who will leave their apartment building to go. There's social anxiety, they aren't aware of it, they don't know how to get there, they don't want to go out in the heat to go get it, to go to the cooling centre. They don't know that there are places they could call to get rides there. But even that can have an issue because there was some issues reported to me about companies in that they would be supporting people to give them rides to the cooling centers, but couldn't necessarily pick them up or weren't, the whoever answered the phone wasn't aware of it, that sort of thing. So there's a few different tweaks and things that need to be worked out. And that's going to take reporting from a lot of people who are actually trying to use those services and have issues.
Evan Kelly 18:31
The cooling centers are nice, but you can't stay there for 24 hours a day.
Jeanne Hansen 18:39
I'd like to see more buildings have the cooling centers built in either in their lobby, have a little area that set up to have some portable air conditioning units that can be put down there so people can go down and get some respite from the heat. And then that's a good opportunity to then also have some things that people can read about to learn about what to do personally for themselves if they're able to have a cold shower or have a cold bath. Put on a long sleeved cotton t shirt that's been soaked in some cold water. Where that to cool down have some spray bottles with some water I just learned something interesting yesterday and it was peppermint tea. Somebody told me if you make peppermint tea, and I've been looking into it, put it in the fridge cool it you can drink it as well as spray it on yourself in a spray bottle or put it in the t-shirt and wear that the peppermint will help cool you down which then can help cool down your core temp. So lots of different things that can be done easily and inexpensively for people and that are easy to follow. But the cooling centers being where they're at having misters setup outside so they can go and cool down there too, fans, industrial fans in the hallways to encourage more airflow throughout the building. Making sure that the building has their inspections and that done to their ventilation systems to make sure that they are operating, as they should even have sections created down in underground parking. And that if they have it so people can go downstairs and sit and relax. And even if they had to, could have a cot or so down there that they can sleep in.
Evan Kelly 20:23
One of the main issues though, was like your sister said she was fine. And that's where I, as a as a group, as a society, sometimes we have to learn that we can't take some things on face value.
Jeanne Hansen 20:38
Absolutely. Yeah. When I am asked the question, who I'm mad at who's to blame? You know, it always comes back to me. I didn't personally go and check my sister's apartment, I didn't realize how hot it became in her little bachelor apartment. And I didn't realize that when she was saying she was okay, she wasn't. And that is the biggest regret. I have an app that I didn't personally go. So the people I talk to, don't just phone them, go, physically go and see what things are like for them. And if part of that means that you then take them out of that and bring them home, where they can be watched and be cooled down and be monitored, then please do that.
Evan Kelly 21:26
Yeah, absolutely. Some interesting things about actually heatstroke and heat, the heat exhaustion, we have this little list here. That's supplied by one of the CDCs. The heat stroke, I thought was interesting. If you're suffering from heatstroke, you've got a high body temperature around 38 degrees or over. Hot red skin, fast, strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, you could pass out at this point when you've got just heatstroke. And that's different from heat exhaustion. But one of the things that's, that I thought I found was counterintuitive was don't give the person anything to drink. You know, it's one of those things where people, if you just assumed, oh, give him a cold glass of water or something like that. Well, in this case, they're saying, don't do that, call 911 right away.
Jeanne Hansen 22:15
Well with the dehydration, because there's the first dehydration, then there's heat exhaustion, then there's heatstroke, and then there's death. So with the dehydration, if you're already feeling thirsty, you're already dehydrated, pure and simple. When you get to heat exhaustion, it's the body temperature goes up, you use get red, you can feel nauseous, you can have all these dizziness symptoms, you can have a lot of symptoms that sometimes mimic what they feel like all the time already anyway, depending on what their health issues are. Or they're just not realizing it. Once you move into the heat stroke, well then that's when you need more medical intervention and emergency situation and go to the hospital and call 911, that sort of thing. It can, it can cause you dehydrate more if you were to give somebody who's already at that stage a lot of fluids, because they can actually then turns into diarrhea and vomiting and they can dehydrate even more faster.
Evan Kelly 23:19
And within heatstroke confusion. I mean that's perhaps where some of the miscommunication comes in. And the heat exhaustion for another example here, it's the you know, their skin is going to be cold, pale and clammy. So you don't necessarily feel like this person is physically hot.
Jeanne Hansen 23:38
No, if it's hot outside, and they're having some of these symptoms and feel cold and clammy and they kind of stopped sweating. That's when you know you've reached that point that you need medical intervention. Caretakers have to watch out for that stuff themselves, too.
Evan Kelly 23:54
Oh, absolutely. I mean, DDA is an organization that, I mean, we look after, we have numerous group homes where we got two people, 24/7. And we were lucky last year that we you know, when the heat dome hit, we managed to get all the air conditioners that we needed to keep our houses cool, because we have people that cannot, like I said earlier on, cannot regulate their body temperature. So we were quite fortunate that we sort of kept kept everybody safe. But I mean at the moment, with all the changes coming in, do you think the government is going to be doing enough? Do you feel better about where we're going in this direction?
Jeanne Hansen 24:34
The government run buildings are going to have the funding just given to them. I know I was at a bit of an event out in New West and there was quite a few different groups that were there. There was reps from BC preparedness. There was BC housing there, there was the senior society, there was the New West city, there was the MLA office that was there, and we had quite a lot of it interesting conversations. But I know BC housing, they're going to start doing a couple buildings with the film on the outside as kind of like a trial to see if that helps. And then eventually that will hopefully spread out to all the buildings run by BC housing. So there's things like that that have been put into effect for the buildings that are government funded. The problem is running into the the nonprofit run buildings, buildings run by the legions and, and that sort of thing where they don't necessarily have that funding to be able to do that. So hopefully, the government will pull in more money into these grants and make them more readily available. Government isn't always too quick to say, hey, here's some money apply for it. You have to do some searching for it. But they are out there.
Evan Kelly 25:55
Certainly, there's lots of grants for accessibility. We've seen that come down a lot. I mean, I'm not sure that you know, protecting from the heat falls under accessibility to a point it does. But would you be able to talk about where people can find these grants to help protect themselves?
Jeanne Hansen 26:16
Google. Google is our friend and sometimes our worst enemy. But yeah, no, Google it. There, they are out there, I do have some links that are on our Facebook page and our Facebook group. So they can also go on there for information, don't have to join up or sign up there or anything like that. Just go peruse it for the information. And there are some grants that they are accepting right now. So they can certainly make their applications and deal with their boards and figure out what they want to do. But there is some funding out there. And then hopefully, just over the next little bit, building up more and more of a network base, to you know, I have people reach out and contact to say, hey, you know, I work for an H-vac company, and we want to see what we can do. Or I work for the company that puts film on Windows, let's see what we can do. Or, you know, I want to make a donation to a building or maybe your church wants to adopt a building of full of seniors that can give them some stuff to set up for cooling centers, to maintain fans and donate fans to organize and help them figure out how to set up the the cooling centers, the misting stations, the contacting everybody in the building and get it going. Like there's lots of grassroot groups that are kind of doing things individually. I like to see everybody who's trying to do the same thing on the same road. So let's communicate to each other and more voices certainly get more attention.
Evan Kelly 27:53
Yeah. So it's, it's unfortunate that I mean, we know that climate change is here. We know there are things happening. There are more extreme weather patterns. And there's been no indication yet that we're headed towards another heat dome. Hopefully not but, and they said it was like a one on 1000 year event. But it still happened. And unfortunately, things like this. It's like bad things have to happen. In order for us to have a wake up call as a society. It just seems like we that's the way humanity operates.
Jeanne Hansen 28:20
Every year people pass away from heat, of course. But it's certainly not the the great number that happened in the short amount of time that it did last year. So that's been kind of the "aha" thing. It's always happened. But it's kind of those things that we become used to and it sort of, we don't really remember it or pay attention to it or anything like that, till it personally happens in your life. And then all of a sudden, you're like, hey, wait a minute. What can I do? Where can I go?
Evan Kelly 28:50
While we were certainly appreciate the advocacy work you're doing now, in the name of your sister. It's definitely definitely worth it. For information, again, is it only on the Facebook page where you go, largely where you're putting stuff?
Jeanne Hansen 29:05
I think eventually we're going to have a website. I just haven't had time to do that. It's all been very sudden that I've kind of been put into this position or forced my way into it. I don't know how else to say it. But it's right now, it's Facebook and email. So we do have an email setup as well. Traceyslegacy@gmail.com.
Evan Kelly 29:29
So Traceyslegacy@gmail.com, you can reach out to Jeanne and it's Tracey's legacy on Facebook. I'm not sure how that's going to Facebook, probably Facebook slash Tracey's legacy kind of URL.
Jeanne Hansen 29:41
And I think there's a couple others out there. I think one's like a hen party from England and all this stuff, so make sure you're on the right one. Yeah, it'll be Tracy's smiley blue face, or blue eyed faced in her blue t-shirt, that's what you're looking for.
Evan Kelly 29:56
Well, thank you very much for joining us today, Jeanne. We have been talking to Jeanne Hansen about the concerns of heat in BC ever since the heat dome hit the province last year and 619 passed away as a result, her sister Tracey was one of those people unfortunately, we've been talking about the the ways we need to communicate to people to ensure that they're safe to move things forward. So hopefully we can stop this from happening again. Thank you for joining us.
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