Staff at Turning Point’s overdose prevention site worry more clients will suffer severe frostbite, or worse, as the temperature continues to plummet.
Clinical manager Sarah Fleck said helping clients stay alive is the goal over the next few days. In the past week, staff have seen at least 10 cases of frostbite to hands and feet, with some people experiencing significant injuries.
“We haven’t even hit the coldest weather. It’s scary for us and it’s scary for our clients. We’re encouraging them to access shelter whereever they can and to hunker down and try not to fall asleep outside because they may not wake up,” Fleck said.
She said nurses at the overdose prevention site and Turning Point’s main office have been providing wound care and education on how to manage frostbite.
“I think it’s good that they’re trying to access some care from us. A lot of our clients are unwilling to go to the hospital so we try to address it as effectively as we can here before utilizing that.”
She said once skin has been damaged by frostbite, it’s important to stay indoors, but for people who may not be able to access shelter for whatever reason, maybe due to their personality, it is very difficult for them.
“It’s really unfortunate that there’s just not enough capacity in Red Deer to manage all the people, and all the personalities, and all the complex needs that everybody has.”
Fleck said everyone is struggling to stay warm, but if people have extra footwear, socks, mittens or gloves to donate, they could be dropped off at Turning Point’s main office, at 4611 50th Ave.
“That would be greatly appreciated for the people who are living outside and are trying their best to survive this coming week,” Fleck said.
Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning that includes a risk of frostbite in Red Deer area for the next few days.
Alex Campbell, EMS public education officer with Alberta Health Services, said in past years emergency medical services personnel in the province have encountered patients suffering third-degree frostbite with limbs that were totally frozen.
People with second-degree frostbite will often have blisters like burn victims.
He said first-degree frostbite causes skin to be white and waxy that will become painful and red as it warms. Skin should be warmed up passively, and if pain is not relieved with regular painkillers, they should seek medical attention.
He said the tip of the nose, earlobes and fingers are particularly susceptible.
“Frostbite is always going to be a challenge for people whenever we have this cold weather. Any cold, exposed skin is susceptible to frostbite,” Campbell said.
He recommended people dress in layers, stay hydrated to help regulate body temperature, and always travel with a full set of cold weather gear, like ski pants, in vehicles.
“Wherever you’re travelling by vehicle, you should be prepared to walk to get assistance if you become stuck or have a breakdown.”