During the first week of July 2018, most people throughout Quebec struggled with levels of extreme heat and humidity. They lasted for an unrelenting seven days. 66 died.
Anyone in their late fifties and older, anyone living with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions, anyone living alone, in a building with no air conditioning or without a support network of their own was at much greater risk of suffering serious, even fatal effects.
Then we heard about the first six heat-related deaths this summer. Mayor Valérie Plante announced that an emergency protocol was being implemented a day early in a massive effort to prevent more casualties. Paramedics, police officers and firefighters worked overtime, responding to a drastic increase in calls to 911. The city administration and various agencies seem to have done everything in their power to respond to the crisis. They deserve an A for effort.
I can’t help but wonder, however, whether we, as Montrealers, could have done more to prevent these deaths. How many of us heeded the mayor’s call to intervene within our own communities? How is it that so many people could die such an ignoble and needless death, when neighbours and help were just a few metres down the hall?
Imagine a Montreal where each neighbourhood could identify and respond to the known needs of our most vulnerable members. Individuals with mobility issues are too often trapped for weeks by the snow and ice, unable to access the waiting STM Adapted Transport bus or van. As a result, they often miss vital medical appointments, chemotherapy, dialysis and physiotherapy. A stronger culture of civic duty and community might make the difference between life and death.
We’re all in this together. We could all find ourselves in a vulnerable position and dependent on neighbours and city services to see us through a crisis situation. The city has a duty to create a better safety net, calling on all its partners (including citizens) to work together to ensure that nobody is overlooked.
Here are a few things that could be done to better protect the city’s most vulnerable:
A central registry of individuals (frail seniors, persons with disabilities or chronic health issues) should be compiled from existing lists of Adapted transport users, CLSC home care clients, fire dept and emergency responders to ensure that the elderly and disabled need not live in isolation.
An action plan with clear protocols and mechanisms should be designed to optimize the contributions of civic-minded Montrealers willing to assist city officials and front-line health care providers in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, and not just in times of extreme weather events.
Finally, an Office of Universal Accessibility should be created to coordinate and implement the principles of universal accessibility across various city services and departments. The diversity of challenges faced by the elderly and people with a disability could be properly addressed, as we strive to achieve a more just and caring society.