As the City of St. Louis confirms three additional heat deaths, the City Health Director is asking the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to create a national heat death reporting system.
"Public health depends on sharing data," said Health Director Pam Walker, "But neither the CDC nor the National Weather Service has a consistent and immediate extreme weather death reporting system in the region, the state, or the nation. That prevents us from learning from each other. So, I have written the CDC and National Weather Service to ask them to put together a state and local task force to establish standards for immediate and accurate reporting of extreme weather illness and death. It is my hope that we can recommend more effective preventative measures when given more information."
During times of extreme heat or cold, the City's medical examiner, Doctor Graham, makes investigating and quickly reporting extreme weather deaths a top priority. He understands the benefit of public health information as an early warning system to the public so that residents can understand the risks during or immediately after an extreme weather event. The City Department of Health tracks hospital and EMS illness data and releases that information to the public within 24 hours.
Since June 28th, the City of St. Louis has confirmed 17 heat related deaths. That total includes three heat related deaths announced today: Ronald Pendleton, a 64 year-old black man, Ozell Garner, a 71-year-old black man, and Robert Moncure, a 65-year-old black man.
Unfortunately, there is no consistent and immediate extreme weather death reporting system in the region, the state or the nation. National death reporting data systems exist within CDC and the National Weather Service as well as national news media. This data is inconsistent, contradictory and released sometimes months after an event is over. Also, regionally, there are differences in timeliness, type of information gathered and procedures for sharing results.
"Informing the public about the risk of disability and death during an extreme weather event is critical to saving lives," said Walker. "Timely, accurate, and non-contradictory data is essential to developing a rapid response to those most at risk. Public health leaders have an obligation to gather, analyze, and release information to help the public immediately."
For example, data carefully gathered and analyzed quickly by City Medical Examiner Doctor Graham revealed that many of those who have died in the most recent heat event had a cognitive or mental health issue. That information prompted the City to develop a system to gather information on populations with mental health issues and add those individuals to our functional needs registry. City leaders also contacted mental health service providers to recruit their help in checking on that at-risk population. This information allows the City to pinpoint the most at risk individuals during a heat emergency and use its resources more effectively.
"The City, the region, the state, and the country can benefit from the implementation of a national, uniform heat death reporting system. All of our responses would be improved," explained Walker. "But we shouldn't wait for a national solution. I am asking the regional National Weather Service, medical examiners, coroners, and public health administrators to begin developing a system for our region. St. Louis has the chance to become a national model for heat death information sharing - and doing so would keep our residents safer during times of extreme heat."