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Hundreds of Nursing Home Residents Evacuated During Heat Wave

A New Jersey nursing home temporarily relocated 183 residents in July, 2019 after a malfunctioning air conditioning system put residents’ lives in danger.  Voorhees Care and Rehabilitation in southern New Jersey had no choice but to evacuate all residents in the facility when the air conditioning failed.  Failure to take swift action in such a situation could be considered nursing home abuse or neglect. 

Nursing Home Evacuation Information

On the day in question, thermometers read 99 degrees, and the heat index was 110 degrees.  Some friends and relatives of the residents present during the evacuation said temperatures inside the nursing home were in the 90’s. 

Voorhees Care and Rehabilitation administration arranged for the majority of residents to go to the nearby Eastern High School.  Some, however, had to relocate to medical facilities.  Twenty of these individuals are bed-ridden and require a higher level of care than what was possible in the cooling center set up at the high school. 

After emergency repairs to the facility, the residents were back in their rooms by about 8 p.m. the same day.  At least one resident stayed in the hospital to receive treatment for a possible heat-related illness.  The malfunctioning air conditioning was not a matter of inconvenience for those nursing home residents, but an emergency.  High temperatures can cause heat stress and illness for any age group, but for the elderly extreme heat is dangerous. 

Excessive Heat is Dangerous for People over 65

Nursing home residents 65 or over have to be very careful in the extreme heat of summer.  That’s because people in this age group are more prone to heat-related health problems.  Older adults are generally more prone to heat stress because:

  • Their bodies do not adjust well to sudden changes in temperature.
  • They are likely to have a chronic medical condition that complicates their overall health and changes the body’s response to extreme heat.
  • They are likely to need prescription medications that may alter the way their bodies react to heat or regulate temperature.

Thriving in the Heat: Stay Cool, Hydrated, and Informed

When temperatures are in the 90’s, especially when the humidity is soaring, keep these tips in mind to avoid heat-related illness:

  • Stay in air conditioning as much as possible.  If you do not have air conditioning at home, your local health department should be able to connect you to a cooling center.
  • When it’s above 90 degrees outside, do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling method.
  • Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.  Drink more water than usual.
  • Serve cold foods with a high water content. 
  • Wear lightweight, loose, and lightly colored clothing because they reflect heat.
  • Take a cool shower or bath during the hottest part of the day.
  • Avoid strenuous activity.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Check on a friend or neighbor in the heat, and ask someone to do the same for you.
  • If your doctor limits how much water you should drink, ask him or her specifically how much water you can drink on a hot day.

Stay in the know about when to take extra precautions with the heat by watching the local news for health and safety updates.

Heat-Conscious Checklist

Whether you are checking on an elderly friend or trying to stay smart in the heat for yourself, ask these important questions:

  • Are you drinking enough water?
  • Do you have adequate access to air conditioning?
  • Do you have access to cool water, ice, peppermint, and other ways to keep cool?
  • Are you experiencing any signs of heat stress?

Don’t Take Chances with Heat Stress and Nursing Home Residents

There are varying degrees of heat-related illness, and they are all a serious medical matter for adults over the age of 65. 

Heat Stress

Symptoms of heat stress can include headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, and vomiting.  Seek medical attention right away if a nursing home resident shows the signs of heat stress. 

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are usually a result of exercise or strenuous movement.  Symptoms include muscle spasms and heavier than usual sweating during exercise.  If you experience heat cramps, stop your activity and move to a cool place.  Drink water or a sports drink.  Don’t start any further physical activity until the muscle cramps stop.  Seek medical attention if the cramps last more than an hour or you are on a low sodium diet. 

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is only slightly less serious than heat stroke.  Symptoms include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Weak pulse
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fainting 

If a nursing home resident experiences these symptoms, move the victim to a cooler place.  Loosen their clothes and apply cool, wet cloths to the temples and wrists.  Stop home remedies and seek medical attention if the victim vomits or has symptoms for longer than an hour. 

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness.  Symptoms include:

  • Body temperature of 103 degrees or higher
  • Red or hot skin
  • Fast pulse
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness 

Heat stroke is a medical emergency.  Call 911 right away if you suspect someone you love is experiencing heat stroke.  Move the victim to a cooler place.  Try to lower their temperature with cool cloths or a bath.  Do not give them anything to drink. 

Protect Nursing Home Residents from Heat Illness

Stories like the evacuation in New Jersey may be cause for concern if you have a family member living in a nursing home.  Take this opportunity to pause and consider the climate control where your family member lives.  Comfortable temperatures are a detail of elder care that is very easy to miss. 

Take this opportunity to ask your family member about the temperatures in their nursing home.  Furthermore, go for a visit and observe it for yourself.  Finally, if you are uncomfortable, or it seems like the air conditioning is not functioning properly, speak with a staff member.  You certainly should not hesitate to act if the facilities are too hot inside to be safe.

If you are aware of a nursing home resident who has become ill due to excessive heat, take action right away.  Call Nursing Home Abuse Center to find out more about his or her legal rights.  Exposing nursing home residents to excessive heat may constitute neglect of basic needs.  Find out more by talking to a nursing home abuse attorney

For a free consultation, call Nursing Home Abuse Center toll free at 1-800-516-4783.  You can also contact us for free information by filling out our online form. 

Sources: 

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