Alberta Must Do More to Prepare for Extreme Heat Events

Alberta Must Do More to Prepare for Extreme Heat Events

In the summer of 2021, Alberta experienced a record-breaking heat dome, claiming an estimated 66 lives. That heat emergency finally passed one year ago today.

Hundreds of people in western Canada died from extreme heat during 2021’s heat dome. Seniors and unhoused communities were some of the most vulnerable and impacted. 619 people died in British Columbia, mostly seniors. In Alberta, there were an estimated 66 deaths, but no comprehensive data or analysis has been released.

One year later, Friends of Medicare has sent an open letter to Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping, calling on the Alberta government to take action to prepare for future extreme heat events.

“Extreme heat emergencies are public health emergencies and must be treated as such,” said Chris Gallaway executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Climate change means we can expect that heat waves will only become more common and more intense, yet our provincial government is missing in action in terms of releasing crucial data or taking the necessary steps to prepare for future heat emergencies.”

Recently, the report, “Extreme Heat and Human Mortality: A Review of Heat-Related Deaths in B.C. in Summer 2021” was submitted to the Chief Coroner of British Columbia. The review panel was tasked with reviewing the deaths of British Columbians who died from the 2021 extreme heat event, and made recommendations to prevent such tragedies in the future.

“In B.C. the provincial government is learning from last year’s data and experience, and taking a leadership role in coordinating a response by bringing forward a provincial alert system, committing to more paramedics and ambulances during future heat emergencies and more,” said Gallaway. “Last year’s heat dome put undue stress on Alberta’s hospitals and EMS system at a time when our health care system was already under severe strain. Our provincial government must do more to ensure that we don’t experience a repeat this summer.”

The City of Vancouver also announced measures to deal with extreme heat, with a proactive approach that includes indoor cooling spaces, increased access to outdoor and shaded public spaces, access to water, and targeted funding to support the more vulnerable residents of Downtown Eastside. 

“This can’t be left to municipalities and community agencies alone. We must safeguard our public health care system and protect Albertans from future extreme heat events, we cannot continue to abandon vulnerable communities to extreme heat,” concluded Gallaway. “Alberta must follow BC’s lead in implementing a provincially coordinated public health response, which means good data for decision making, a focus on protecting vulnerable populations, and a longer-term risk mitigation strategy.”

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