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Avoiding tragedy: Multnomah County gets ahead of the heat

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 4:56 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Multnomah County had some of the most heat-related deaths across Oregon during last June’s deadly heat wave. Officials reported 72 deaths, all the victims 48 years old or older.

This year, officials say there will be 18 cooling centers across the county where people can escape the heat, should it get to those dangerous levels.

County officials say only three large cooling centers were set up in the 2021 heat wave that over 1400 people used. This year, they’re increasing that number of facilities to bring more relief.

We needed to build on existing relationships that we had and identify more facilities that could be spread out throughout the county to make sure that everyone that wants to access a cool space has something nearby,” said Jenny Carver, Emergency Manager with the Multnomah County Dept. of Human Services.

Carver says the county is prioritizing protecting vulnerable populations now, and are working with organizations that serves those in low income housing without air conditioning along with the elderly.

“Last summer we waited for a forecasted event in order to start distributing fans and cooling kits and things like that,” Carver said. “That won’t be the case this summer.”

Public health officials stress that those who may be older and living alone with any health conditions are a particularly vulnerable group during deadly heatwaves. Kristen McCall is a lawyer representing the family of Charlotte Iverson, a woman suffering from dementia who died during the heatwave last year at The Heights at Columbia Knoll in Portland, an assisted living facility.

“There’s large populations of people who have dementia who don’t have the care that they need and may not have access to all of the cooling facilities that keep them safe,” said McCall.

McCall says checking up on the conditions of where vulnerable friends or family members live as we head into the summer months could avoid tragedy.

“If you have a loved one in a care facility or in an independent living situation, don’t assume that the owners or landlords are doing what they need to do to keep the residents safe.”

McCall says the case she brought against The Heights senior living facility on behalf of the Iverson family is still pending.

More on Multnomah County’s plan to respond to potential heat waves can be found here.