6 people in Sun Cities died of heat in 2017

Arizona’s record heat challenges utility suppliers and users alike. [APS/Submitted Photo]

By Roger Ball
Independent Newsmedia

Northwest Valley residents need to know that heat kills.

68 people died from it in Maricopa County last July, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.  Between March and October 2017 168 people died in the county—six of them in the Sun Cities.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health said 68 people died in Maricopa County due to heat related issues during July 2017. For the entire heat season—March through October—there were 168 deaths, and six of those were in the Sun Cities.

Most of these people were in their own homes.

The causes

One problem, according Jeanene Fowler, MCDPH health programs administrator is that many seniors feel they can’t afford to keep their air on and think using a fan is enough.

“It isn’t,” Ms. Fowler said in an interview with the Independent.

County officials report that since 2006, 69 percent of people who died from heat did not have air conditioning present at the time of the death, and another 28 percent had their air conditioning turned off primarily to save on electricity.

Of those who did have air conditioning present half of them had units that were not functioning—either broken and turned off, or they were only blowing hot air.

Ms. Fowler said it is important to check on neighbors and understand the environment of the Valley.

“If you see a neighbor whose window is open in July, that is not a good sign. Could their air conditioning be broken, or do they feel they can’t afford to run their unit?” she said.

Ms. Fowler’s final warning is that residents need to remember, “the heat killing season is a long one.

“In 2017 it began in early March and continued through October.”

Heat effects

Arizona Fire & Medical Authority Deputy Chief Robert Helie said most cases of heat related deaths are seniors, and that many have underlying health problems, principally involving the heart, and high heat rapidly worsens the situation.

Mr. Helie said our bodies don’t work as well when overheated, especially in managing blood flow. The first sign of heat stress, Mr. Helie said, is often irritability, followed by profuse sweating and dizziness.

These people are often pale as blood isn’t moving around like it should, he added.

“If you find someone looking and acting this way you should call 911 immediately,” Mr. Hellie said.

“If they are outside try and get them in the shade, especially if they are not alert.”

If the person is conscious and alert, Mr. Helie said, they can be given small sips of water.

Utility misconceptions

Many seniors that suffer from heat problems keep their air conditioning at very low operations because they believe they can’t afford to run it properly, Ms. Fowler said.

Arizona Public Service has tips to help residents with their costs. They include pre-cooling the house earlier in the day so the air conditioning doesn’t run as much during the heavier demand 3 – 8:00 p.m. hours and shifting extra electrical usage outside those key hours. Their website, www.aps.com, lists several appliances that are in homes and how much energy each uses to assist residents.

Additionally, APS officials said it offers multiple payment plans, including budget billing, and payment arrangements. Some seniors living on fixed incomes may also qualify for reduced rates or crisis assistance.

APS partners with local non-profit organizations regarding crisis assistance including the Salvation Army, the Sun City West Community Fund and Sun City Community Assistance network. Sun Cities residents who have trouble paying bills, including utilities, can contact these entities for help.

Sun City West Community Fund board member Dale Horyan-Toftoy said in 2017 the fund helped 44 clients and disbursed more than $80,000.

Call 623-546-1122 for the foundation in Sun City West, and 623-933-7530 for Sun City CAN.

Ms. Horyan-Toftoy said the committee investigates a person’s qualifications looking over a five year period of time.

Ms. Horyna-Toftoy said,  “There is a lot of price and embarrassment and we do an extensive interview.”

If a person is qualified, she said, a committee member goes to the client’s home, picks up the bill, and the treasurer pays it directly. No money goes directly the client.

The Community Fund relies entirely on donations. They have no office or staff, just their hotline. 95 percent of all their donations go directly to recipients.

Not bothered

Health and safety officials advise to do things in the cooler part of the day, and avoid working outside during the hottest times of the day.

Not everyone avoids the hottest part of the day.

Sun City West resident Mike Riordan was at the Trail Ridge putting course at 3 p.m. July 2, when the temperature was 105. He said he was practicing for a game to be played the next afternoon.

“Afternoons are a good time to play,” Mr. Riordan said. “There is always a breeze and humidity is down.”

He added that in the mornings there is no breeze and there is often dampness from the sprinklers.

Visit: www.heataz.org, www.scwfoundation.org, www.aps.com

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