July 13, 2024

Senator Pacheco sponsors a study of the impacts of extreme heat on vulnerable populations


The study was included as an amendment to the Senate version of the FY25 state budget

Boston— Dean of the Massachusetts Senate Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton) announces that an amendment he sponsored calling for a study on the impact of extreme heat and other climate events on vulnerable populations was adopted during the Senate FY25 budget debate on Thursday.
The amendment will create a study to examine the impact of extreme heat on older adults and persons with disabilities, along with strategies that may be implemented to keep them safe during extreme climate events.

“The study called for in this amendment is essential to addressing the consequences climate change will have on our most vulnerable populations,” said Senator Pacheco. “Here in the Commonwealth, we must recognize that those who will be most affected by the impacts of extreme weather have been, and will be, those in our most vulnerable communities.”

The amendment calls for a review of the Oregon framework as part of the study to help the Commonwealth establish an adaptation plan to help keep vulnerable populations safe during climate events.

The framework model was a response to a 2022 study that found that 72 people in the Portland area died because of extreme heat in 2021. 69 of these deaths occurred during one week of extreme heat in June, including 25 deaths on a single day when Portland hit its all-time high temperature of 116 degrees.

Those who died were disproportionately older adults who lived alone, people in multifamily buildings, people experiencing homelessness, and people living in areas known as urban heat islands. 94% of all deaths occurred in the victim’s own home, a majority of which had no air-cooling unit.

In response to the report, the county began the process of managing these emergencies by implementing strategies and policies that aim to provide and increase the accessibility of lifesaving resources during heat emergencies to these communities. For example, one strategy included in the framework allows Oregon's Medicaid program to cover the cost of devices to keep vulnerable people, who fall under a stringent set of federal guidelines, safe during harsh weather and poor air quality events that can put them at increased health risk.

The initiative is part of the Biden administration's strategy to expand Medicaid beyond medical care to provide social services, especially amid the major and growing health risks posed by climate change and the corresponding extreme weather events.

Massachusetts has not been immune to rising temperatures.

2023 was tied for the warmest year on record for the Commonwealth, with temperatures averaging 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Summer 2024 is predicted by NOAA to be abnormally hot, and just this week the Commonwealth experienced hotter-than-normal temperatures for May.

Findings published in the medical journal Stroke this week found that in Boston, the risk of dying from an ischemic stroke is 37% higher on a 90-degree day than on a 75-degree day.

“The health risks resulting from our changing climate are already being felt in Massachusetts,” said Senator Pacheco. “We know this problem is here, and it’s not going away.”

The study created by this amendment will help state leaders form a strategy to protect the Commonwealth's most vulnerable populations as the impacts of climate change have more and more prevalent impacts on Massachusetts in the form of everything from stronger storms to dangerously high temperatures in the summer months. This includes an examination of the feasibility of providing Medicaid recipients with supports that will keep them safe during climate events, similar to the approach taken in Oregon.

“It is time for Massachusetts to take the initiative to mitigate the health consequences climate change has on our vulnerable populations, including those with disabilities and those in the continuously growing over-65 population,” said Senator Pacheco. “It is essential that we study and implement strategies and solutions to protect the folks who need it as extreme weather events, and especially those related to extreme heat, become more common.”

The amendment, which was filed by Senator Pacheco, was adopted as part of the Senate version of the FY25 state budget.


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