VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C. has launched an independent review into how the province handled a heatwave in which extreme temperatures likely contributed to the sudden deaths of hundreds of people.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday that the review will be led by B.C.’s chief coroner, and will result in recommendations for how to improve the response to a future heatwave to prevent future deaths.
“I want to say that it’s our expectation that every case will be part of that review, every person who passed away will be part of that review. Every person is loved, and what happened to every person matters,” he said.
“Actions will be taken based on recommendations from those reviews. Obviously, it is significant what happened and it requires a significant response.”
The end of June and early July saw unheard-of temperatures across B.C. and Alberta. The community of Lytton, B.C., reached nearly 50 C and was engulfed days later by a wildfire. The BC Coroners Service said over a seven-day period from Friday, June 25 through Thursday, July 1, 719 deaths were reported. It is believed the extreme weather was a significant contributing factor to the threefold increase in deaths. Many of those who died were seniors living alone.
Re: deadly heat wave last week, Henry stands by #BC’s response saying decisions were based on 2009 report that led to warnings issued last Friday.
She says “clearly, it was not efficient to reach everyone” and each death will be examined.
So will ambulance call records. #bcpoli
— Marcella Bernardo (@MBernardoNews) July 8, 2021
A flood of calls to 911 resulted in long wait times for people who required emergency services, and compounded the ongoing problem of lengthy ambulance wait times.
An ambulance dispatcher on the Lower Mainland spoke with NEWS 1130 under conditions of anonymity last week. He said once the temperature started to rise, call volumes skyrocketed.
“We had, over a 24-hour period or 36-hour period, well over 3,600 calls, when we would normally answer maybe 1,200 to 1,400 on a busy night,” he claimed.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said 911 call records are being reviewed. She also noted an important part of the review will be to find out where people were most at risk.
“It’s everything from the types of building codes we have from the amount of green space in communities, and then of course the response which is things like opening cooling centres, things like being able to provide water to people,” she said.
“We’re going to see what we can learn from this past week’s extreme, extreme heatwave so that we’re better prepared for the rest of this summer, but also to look at whether there’s specific communities that we need to do additional measures in, not just for this summer but for the future as well.”
Henry also maintained recommendations made following a major heatwave in the province in 2009 were followed through on, and are now part of the province’s protocol.
With files from Claire Fenton and Marcella Bernardo