Correction: Photo was taken by Sara Madsen, not Sebastian Golden.
By: Sebastian Golden
A record-setting heat wave over Labor Day weekend contributed to the deaths of three elderly people in San Mateo County, according to the coroner’s office. A 90-year-old Pacifica man, a 79-year-old Daly City man, and a 95-year-old Millbrae woman all died from heat stroke. They lived alone. These deaths potentially could have been prevented if the seniors had someone to check in on them or were connected to a senior community.
Seniors are especially vulnerable to heat. Two residents of a Burlingame nursing home without air conditioning died during a heat wave in 2000, and eight residents of a Florida nursing home died after the air conditioning lost power as a result of Hurricane Irma.
80-year old Sunnyvale resident Frances Katz spoke of her experiences at her previous home in Coarsegold, Madera County: “In the summer, it was 90 to 105 degrees.” She added that “in the community that I lived in, they had a library and restaurant there and they kept it as a ‘cooling station,’ and they would tell people who didn’t have any air conditioning…to go down there just to cool off.” Anna Kertel, of the San Carlos Senior Center, said “we are a county cooling station. Our [San Carlos] library is a county cooling station as well.” She added that most senior centers and public libraries throughout the Bay Area are designated as cooling stations.
San Mateo County offers various resources to help seniors that may need assistance. Nicole Fernandez, of the San Mateo County Aging and Adult Services, said “We have resources that include partnerships with senior centers, programs that check in on folks, [and] something called the Friendship Line which is available to any senior in the Bay Area who just needs someone to call in and check in on them on a regular basis.”
Fernandez is the Training and Outreach Specialist at the Adult Protective Services Unit of the San Mateo County Aging and Adult Services. “Isolation is a huge issue when it comes to issues of neglect and self-neglect in seniors, so maintaining your social network, maintaining a relationship with family, friends, your church, whatever your social outlet is in order to keep you vital and in contact with other members of your community is an essential part,” she said. “It’s also knowing your limits, so if you need assistance in your home, it’s knowing that there are resources available and people you can talk to in order to gain assistance.”
Kertel, the Recreation Supervisor for the City of San Carlos, said that family of seniors should “at least check in every couple of days. Not just phone calls, you need to see them to see if there’s some kind of an issue.”
The best way to help out seniors? “Be present,” according to Kertel. “Still having conversations, visiting, encouraging them to go to their local senior center. The worst thing is for them to be socially isolated.”
TIES Line is a confidential 24-hour emergency & advice phone line for seniors living in San Mateo County. Its number is 1-800-675-8437.