'I knew something was wrong': Concerns raised over conditions at care home during B.C. heat wave

Before the temperatures in B.C. turned sweltering during the recent heat wave, Derrick Andrews said he asked about cooling measures at his wife's care home in Vancouver, including the use of a fan.

"I was told, 'Well you better go down to Canadian Tire and pick up one,'" he said. "I thought they were being facetious."

He said his 68-year-old wife Sandra, who has dementia, has been at the Windermere Care Centre in Vancouver for about a month now.

"Eighth floor, no air conditioning," he said. "Window opens four inches."

Andrews said the only air conditioning is on the ground floor, where he understood residents are brought during the day.

However, he also had concerns about the heat at night. On a visit over the weekend, he asked his wife.

"I could tell something was wrong," he said. "All she could say...through the 40 minutes was 'hot, hot, hot'. And I knew then there was a very serious problem, because it was clear to me she was stressed."

He said he began asking questions of management, and got staff to share the recorded room temperatures.

"I made inquiries with the management, and was informed 40 degrees is the cut-off point. Before that, they'll make do," he said. "At nighttime, throughout the weekend, I received calls at 10 o'clock at night, and the recorded temperatures in the room, after extraordinary efforts on (the staff's) part...was 36.5."

Andrews said he wants some acknowledgment of the situation, and for management to be "responsible and accountable."

"You wouldn't let your dog in a room at 40 degrees," he said.

In an emailed statement, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said it is the ministry's expectation, under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, that "the operator will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the room temperatures are safe and comfortable."

The health authority said fans were also being sourced and distributed to priority sites, including Windermere, which received some Tuesday evening. They added other cooling measures are also being taken, such as "hydration rounds, cooling residents with showers and wet cloths" and creating cooling zones in the building where there is air conditioning.

"Staff are trained to identify residents at highest risk of heat-related illnesses," the health authority said, and added workers monitor those residents for "signs of dehydration and behaviour change, decreased fluid intake and the inability to mobilize and get to a cooler location."

BC Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake said long-term care home staff are doing the best they can with what they have.

"Maybe it's time we had a ministry for seniors, to really look at this vulnerable population," he said. "Because within 10 years, 25 per cent of British Columbians will be over 65, and I'm not sure we're prepared for that."

Lake said there's also an opportunity to learn from this experience.

"We didn't really learn much from the COVID-19 first wave to the second wave in long-term care in terms of policy," he said. "But we know this won't be the last heat wave we have this summer. We're not even into July yet. So what are we going to do to make sure that we don't have the same impact the next time we have a heat wave."

Andrews said while there are fans in his wife's building now, "they're blowing hot, hot air. That's all they're doing."

He added while he can advocate for his wife, he wonders about others who may not have the same help.

"She has me to stand up for her," he said. "The other people…I'm telling you, they're alone."