Just in time for the soaring summer temperatures, a local senior received assistance for a new air conditioning unit provided at no cost through a collaboration between the Maricopa County Human Services Department and the Area Agency on Aging.
“The temperature inside, during that week, it was a very hot week, [it] was like 83, 86 and finally, it got up to 96,” Elizabeth Austin, a Maricopa County resident, stated in the release. “That’s unbearable.”
Austin tried to apply for financing for the unit that would have cost her $11,000 and with her fixed income, Austin was denied financing.
That’s when she turned to her case manager from the Maricopa County Human Services Department.
“Within seven days, I had a new air conditioner,” Austin stated.
In its latest report on heat-associated deaths, Maricopa County Public Health reported that there have been 26 confirmed cases of heat-associated deaths since Apr. 11, 2021, with another 148 deaths under investigation for heat-related circumstances.
At this time last year, there were six confirmed deaths.
“As we age, our bodies become less tolerant of extreme temperatures – especially sustained heat without access to cooling,” Laura Henry, assistant director of Maricopa County’s Senior and Adult Services Division of Human Services, stated.
Henry explained in the release that the Area Agency on Aging partners were quick to respond to Austin’s concerns.
“Because we serve over 3300 aging adults and adults with disabilities in the community, we knew we had to act fast with the June heat having been so intense,” Henry stated.
This year, 81% of the 26 confirmed heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County have occurred in people aged 50 and older. Eleven of the 26 deaths occurred indoors with a non-functioning air condition unit.
“Our goal is to ensure that we are making an impact in the lives of seniors,” Lizzie Kazan with the Area Agency on Aging stated. “Through the CARES Act funding, we were able to immediately address the urgent need of Ms. Austin through our close collaboration with the Human Services case managers who are out in the community and, now once again, able to make these important home visits to seniors to identify and address their needs.”
Maricopa County has doubled down on reminding both residents and visitors that cooling and hydration stations are available at no charge and are open to the public throughout the excessive heat season.
Additionally, the Maricopa County Human Services Department has launched an online portal for rental, mortgage and utility assistance.
“We want to ensure that any senior in need of support is connected to services and resources,” Henry stated. “We see stories like Ms. Austin quoted often where the personal connection senior residents have with their case managers not only offers the conduit for them to receive resources but also provides that important human connection, especially during this challenging recovery period from COVID-19.”
For more information on cooling and hydration stations and how to recognize signs of heat illness, visit http://heataz.org, and visit HSD.maricopa.gov to learn more about programs and services available to Maricopa County seniors through the Human Services Department.