ORLANDO, Fla. – More than 30,000 Floridians sought emergency medical care during the past five years for heat-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some fear the number could rise.
According to statistics from Climate Central, the Orlando metro area has recorded its first 90-degree day an average of seven days earlier during the past 50 years, resulting in longer spans of summer-like temperatures.
“Yes, it’s hot. I’m already sweating,” said Miranda Kelly as she watched her children playing with the garden hose in the front yard.
Kelly and her five daughters live in the Parramore area just west of downtown Orlando and she said she rarely turns on her air conditioning.
“Sometimes. Not a lot,” she said. “The bill could be too high and I can’t afford that. I just let (my daughters) play in the water and cool down.”
The heat and humidity are making some of her neighbors sick.
According to data compiled by Columbia Journalism Investigations and published by the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, Kelly’s Parramore ZIP code, 32805, has the highest rate of heat-related illnesses in the city of Orlando.
ZIP codes 32922 in Cocoa and 34475 in Ocala have nearly double Parramore’s rate.
The median household income for all of those ZIP codes is around $27,000 per year.
“It’s not going to get better unless we do something about it,” Dr. Sarah St. Louis said.
St. Louis is the president of the Central Florida Medical Society.
She said she followed in the footsteps of her father traveling to underserved communities with low incomes.
She said heat can make healthy people sick and make chronic health conditions worse.
“I think it’s an interesting problem to discuss because I would say it’s under reported,” she said. “I would even say that maybe many health care professionals are not even directly linking symptoms that they’re seeing their patients have to heat-related illnesses.”
She said she tries to educate her patients about the health effects of climate change.
“It’s not going to get better unless we do something about it,” St. Louis said.
Data compiled by the CDC shows more counties in Florida could see more days of extreme heat during the next 10 years.
“The summers are not the same summers that I grew up in. These are hotter summers,” Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill said.
Hill said she grew up in Parramore and she remembers getting bloody noses from the heat as a child.
“When we start talking about hypertension, which many of us in the Black and brown communities suffer from hypertension, that can lead on to a possible heat stroke. It can also lead to heat exhaustion,” she said.
She pointed to open doors in the community, explaining that’s one way residents cool down the inside of their homes.
She is now working to get grant money in the hands of more Parramore landlords to install more energy efficient air conditioners that are less expensive for renters to use.
“Hopefully, we can prevent here -- especially in District 5 in Parramore and throughout the city of Orlando and our vulnerable communities -- to have a hot deathly summer,” she said.
Utility companies are working to help.
Orlando Utilities Commission, Duke Energy and Florida Power and Light told News 6 they have several programs in place to help lower-income customers keep their air conditioning on during the summer months.
“I think the key is knowing where to find help,” FPL spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said. “We kind of put it all together. The agencies come to us, and the customers come to us and we’re able to put them together so that people can get the help they need.”
In fact, FPL said they helped 105,000 customers last year alone get financial assistance.