Dr. Sharon K. Okonkwo-Holmes (Courtesy photo)

July 2023 broke worldwide records as the hottest month ever recorded. Current predictions indicate that the heatwaves will be hotter and longer through the upcoming fall season. Ensuring the safety of vulnerable populations is an urgent matter for the State.  

African American and Black adults aged 50 and up or with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and lupus, are particularly at risk. These health challenges are more prevalent within that community due to socioeconomic factors, health care disparities and genetic predisposition, exacerbating the overall impact of extreme heat.  

According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, Black adults are 60 percent more likely than white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes. According to the California Department of Public Health, 2020-2022 data reveals significantly higher death rates due to diabetes for Black Californians. High temperatures can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to regulate their blood sugar levels and can cause blood pressure to rise, increasing the risk of complications. 

Dr. Sharon K. Okonkwo-Holmes, a family practice physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and an instructor at Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena, emphasized, “The escalating impact of extreme heat on vulnerable populations, especially within African American communities, demands our immediate attention. As heat rises, so does the urgency to implement strategies that ensure their safety and well-being.” 

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that African American and Black women are more likely to get lupus and experience severe symptoms. They are also at greater risk of health complications and death from the autoimmune disease. High body temperatures caused by extreme heat and prolonged sun exposure can affect a person’s immune system. The heightened immune response could worsen symptoms in lupus patients, highlighting the need for focused measures to ensure their health and safety. 


The state’s Heat Ready CA campaign urges residents to take proactive measures in protecting vulnerable individuals from the impacts of escalating temperatures and offers the following four tips for older adults and those with underlying health conditions to help protect from heat illness:  

  1. Check Your Medications: Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to see if any of your medications affect your body’s ability to regulate temperature. 
  2. Keep Cool: Set your air conditioning to 75-80 degrees. Visit spaces with air conditioning, like a cooling center, library, community center, or shopping center if air conditioning isn’t available. 
  3. Know the Signs: Heat exhaustion signs include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headache. Heat stroke symptoms include a fever of 103 degrees F or higher, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Seek medical attention immediately if you notice someone suffering from heat stroke. 
  4. Stay Connected: Keep an eye on weather forecasts and heat advisories so you know when extreme heat is coming. This is especially crucial for older adults who are isolated. Have access to a working phone and keep an emergency contact list and phone numbers.  If you have older family members or neighbors, make a special effort to check in on them – sometimes they might be shy about asking for help. 


As we see a hotter, drier shift in climate, it is important that we come together to address the impact of extreme heat on vulnerable populations. Through proactive efforts and strategic planning, we can strive for a more resilient society that helps prepare and safeguard the well-being of all community members. For more information about heat safety for vulnerable populations and resources to create an extreme heat plan, go to HeatReadyCA.com.