NDP leader, advocates renew push for air conditioning in long-term care homes

NDP Leader Claudia Chender's part has long called for the creation of a mental health crisis response team.

Some politicians and advocates are pushing to make air conditioning more accessible in government-owned seniors' homes, after the province saw days of scorching temperatures this week.

Nova Scotia NDP leader Claudia Chender said she would like to see the provincial government pay greater attention to the needs of residents in these facilities during extreme heat events.

She also said her party had raised the issue of access to air conditioning in long-term care homes in the legislature in 2022.

"It is unacceptable for seniors to live in hot buildings without relief during extreme heat events. We are concerned about older Nova Scotians who are at especially high risk of illness and death during hot weather," said Chender in a news release on Thursday.

"Keeping people healthy means keeping them in a climate controlled environment and making sure that they can stay cool in extreme temperatures. It's June and we're already experiencing temperatures in excess of 30 degrees, so this is not an issue that's going to go away."

Dangers of extreme heat

The Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

A weeklong heat dome in British Columbia in 2021 led to 619 heat-related deaths, according to a government report on the event, and 90 per cent of the victims were over the age of 60.

"The majority of those who died lacked access to cooling or ventilation, and were often living in areas of higher material and social deprivation," the report found.

Cheryl Poole, who lives at Eastwood Manor in Dartmouth, said management is trying their best to address the issues in the government-owned seniors' facility, but a lack of funding stands in the way of outfitting the entire building with air conditioning.

Poole currently has two standup fans to cool her apartment, one in the bedroom and one in the living room.

'We take what we can get'

Still, she said the heat has been unbearable.

"What can we do? With the housing shortage you can't move," Poole said. "We take what we can get and keep our mouths shut because we're lucky to be here, you know? At least we have a roof over our head."

Paul Jenkinson, with Advocates for the Care of the Elderly (ACE), said Wednesday that many of the long-term care facilities in Nova Scotia are unprepared for heat events and the regularity of the high heat that is coming with the climate crisis.

"We have aging infrastructure. I'd say the majority of the facilities do not have air conditioning, except in the office of the business side of the facility," he said.

"So with seniors, they just physically have difficulties regulating their temperature. It's just a factor of aging. And they often have medications that interact with heat in a negative way and put them at increased risk.

"This is not a blaming concern, it's a concern that the minister needs to actually now focus on air conditioning in long-term care facilities, not as a luxury but actually as a part of the health care for seniors."