‘Hearing somebody’s voice and feeling safe’: How Philly’s ‘heatline’ offers help during heat waves

If you’re struggling to stay cool during the next heat wave, call the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s “heatline,” and a nurse may walk you through how to stay safe.

“[We] hear a lot of, ‘Oh, I can’t breathe,’ or ‘I’m very thirsty,’ or ‘I feel like I’m lightheaded,’” said Yvette Minter, director of nursing for the city’s Ambulatory Health Services. “We’ll stay on the phone as long as they need to get comfortable.”

The heatline activates when the city declares a heat health emergency. It’s an extension of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s regular senior helpline, and it’s open to callers of all ages.

The purpose is to give callers tips for staying cool in their homes, connect callers with their nearest city-run cooling centers, and get help for callers experiencing heat-related medical emergencies.

“Our heatline is citywide and it’s actually for everybody,” said Nolan Lawrence, senior director of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s helpline. “Because the heat can attack everybody of any age.”

[insert callout box with heatline phone number: Reach the Philadelphia heatline during heat health emergencies by calling (215) 765-9040]

Help during heat-related health emergencies

The heatline receives dozens to hundreds of calls in a typical summer, according to data provided by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. A small portion of these calls are referred to city health centers or on-call public health nurses, who will refer a caller to 911, dispatch a mobile environmental health team to a caller’s home, or give basic medical advice.

First, heatline staff screen callers for signs of confusion, by asking basic questions such as a caller’s name and location, and other symptoms of heat-related illness before referring them to the public health nurses.

“Your hands are cramping, you’re feeling confused, your body temperature’s high,” Lawrence said. “We’ve actually identified some people suffering from severe confusion and dehydration because they were able to tell us their first name, not their last name. One lady was actually outside, [and] she really didn’t know where she was even though it was her familiar neighborhood.”

  • August 3, 2023
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