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Dignity Alliance Wants to be Cool!

Media Release Calls for Executive Action and Legislation to promote cooling for older adults and people with disabilities

As another heat wave with temperatures in the nineties begins this week, Dignity Alliance Massachusetts is calling on state government to protect older adults and people with disabilities from the dangers of extreme heat.

In a letter to Governor Maura Healey and a request for legislative sponsors for a late filed bill, the statewide, non-profit advocacy group is calling for protections against utility shut-offs during extreme heat periods similar to current legislation to protect vulnerable individuals and families from heat utility shut-off during the winter months.

In addition, giving the increasing experience of heat waves affecting states in the Northeast, the Dignity advocates are urging attention to cooling and air conditioning in nursing homes.  Current regulations only require nursing homes to provide air conditioning in cases of new or major construction.  However, most nursing home residents live in older properties.

In the letter to Governor Healey, signed by Paul Lanzikos, Dignity Alliance Coordinator, and former Secretary of Elder Affairs, the coalition urged the Healey Administration “to take steps to protect older adults, people with disabilities, and their caregivers from experiencing utility disconnections during period of extreme heat.”

The letter noted that, “Scientists have been predicting more dangerous heat waves for several years Under current Massachusetts law (C.164, s. 124F). Utilities are prohibited from terminating service during winter months, (November 15 – March 15) but apparently, not during periods of excessive heat.  People with compromised health conditions, older adults and even those workers who provide home care services are at risk during heat waves.  Loss of utilities during heat emergencies is a matter of energy justice for them and for low-income residents generally. “In addition to protection against utility disconnection during heat waves, Dignity Alliance urges Massachusetts government to provide energy assistance funding for cooling in hot weather as well as heat in cold weather.  We don’t expect utilities to assume the total burden for this protection.  It is a responsibility of the Commonwealth to ease this burden, especially during this

time when the cost of everything seems to have increased.  Furthermore, we hope that your Administration will encourage the medical community to provide validation of the need to utilities to those who require utilities to operate life and health-saving medical devices when requested. Research has shown that “the range of eligible chronic conditions is broad, including mental health conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorder, and ADHD, chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and fibromyalgia, and serious illnesses such as pneumonia or the flu. While eligibility requirements are broad, the condition must be re-confirmed every six months, even for permanent conditions such as Down syndrome.”

Dignity Alliance is also seeking legislative sponsors for late filed legislation to protect older adults and people with disabilities for having utilities shut-off during periods of extreme heat, and to push to have nursing homes have air conditioning.  The request to lawmakers explained that, “Massachusetts, like most states, currently has a law to prevent utility shut-offs during the winter months, however only 19 states have similar provisions for dealing with extreme heat in the summer months.  Recent reports from scientists indicate that Massachusetts residents can expect extreme heat conditions annually for the foreseeable future.

“In addition, Massachusetts nursing homes are only required to provide air conditioning for new or substantially renovated construction.  The proposed bill would also require the Department of Public Health to promulgate regulations to provide air conditioning of resident rooms and common areas.”

Dignity Alliance, Legislative Chair, Richard Moore, a former legislator, and Charles Carr, a former Commissioner of the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission, explained that, “older adults and many persons with disabilities are more prone to heat stress:

  • Older adults do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature.
  • They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat.
  • They are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body’s ability to control its temperature or sweat.”