Heat-related medical incidents spike in Woonsocket

Heat-related medical incidents spike in Woonsocket

WOONSOCKET – With temperatures hovering in the low 90s throughout much of last week, city health officials and social service providers said there was a significant impact on public health.

At Landmark Medical Center, officials said the hospital’s emergency room saw a spike in patients admitted due to heat-related issues such as dehydration and sunburn, though they were unable to provide an exact number due to the difficulty of isolating these cases from normal levels of admissions.

“I would advise that people hydrate themselves well and avoid extreme exercise or activities in the peak sun hours,” said Glenn Fort, chief medical officer at Landmark.

Susan Corkran, director of nurses at Community Care Alliance, said the social service provider has seen an increase in clients taking advantage of the organization’s facilities to escape the heat in recent weeks, and has also instructed staff to speak with clients about staying hydrated and keeping out of the heat.

She said staff have seen people spending days in the waiting room to stay cool, which is allowed, and they also direct people to available cooling centers.

Corkran said the organization was notified through the statewide health exchange of the admission of several clients to area emergency rooms last week due to heat-related issues, including dehydration and fatigue. The heat, she said, can also lead indirectly to other health concerns, including food poisoning following outdoor barbecues and respiratory illness as a result of mildew in secondhand air conditioning units.

“In at least one case, we had somebody who was there (in the emergency room) because he was overhydrated because he was being careful to drink too much, which can have an impact on people’s medication,” she said.

Clients’ access to air conditioning, said Corkran, depends on their living arrangements and can be difficult for the organization to track. Some clients live in CCA-sponsored group homes or assisted living facilities that have regular air conditioning, while others live in subsidized housing developments that typically charge an additional fee of between $25 and $45 per season, plus the cost of the air conditioning unit provided by the resident. The problem is particularly acute for individuals with mental health issues such as schizophrenia, which can affect the body’s ability to sense temperature.

“They just don’t have the sensitivity to it, so they don’t realize what’s going on and that can be dangerous,” said Corkran.

“It’s old housing stock here,” she added. “It’s multi-floor, so the higher up you go, the hotter you get.”

At the Woonsocket Harris Public Library, Director Leslie Page said the library sees a slight increase in the number of patrons taking advantage of the space on warmer days, as well as the length of time people typically spend there. The library, along with the Woonsocket Senior Center, is one of two city-designated cooling centers intended to be a refuge from the heat on days when the summer weather poses a health concern.

Page said the Woonsocket library is delighted to have the extra visitors, adding that she hopes summer weather will help introduce new patrons to the library’s services and bring in new visitors.