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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

Resources available to fight the cold in Carroll

The cold can kill, and did so five times already in Maryland this winter season, according to a Wednesday report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, including an elderly Carroll woman. But if people need to be aware of the potential hazards of hypothermia, local health and human services officials have said they should also be aware of the resources available and recommendations for keeping warm.

"Cold weather can be a real threat, particularly for the elderly and those who have other clinical conditions," said Dr. Henry Taylor, acting health officer with the Carroll County Health Department, which posts tips and recommendations for staying safe on its website.

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The extreme cold guide available on the website recommends wearing layers, paying attention to winter storm warnings and maintaining an emergency kit for the possibility of losing power in a winter storm, among others.

In the event of a major winter storm event or a cold snap like the "polar vortex" of last winter, the health department works to let important information out through partnerships with other agencies, according to Tierney Youngling, the community health nurse supervisor for the Public Health Preparedness and Response Program.

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"We coordinate with the Carroll County Office of Public Safety and Support services … to push [the information] out on their Twitter and Facebook page," she said. "Any time that we're faced with extreme weather, like we were this past year, we can get the information out to public, where they can go if they need a warm place to stay."

According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there were no hypothermia-related deaths in Carroll County last year despite repeated bouts of extreme cold, something Youngling credits to the availability of public buildings for use as daytime warming centers for the homeless, powerless and even those just out and about in the cold.

"During the daytime, we have the senior centers and the public libraries, and at night, [Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc.] has their cold-weather shelter," she said. "Last year, we had a very severe winter season, and the fact that we had the warming centers, that definitely helped."

This year, the senior and community centers and branches of the Carroll County Public Library are open for use as warming centers during business hours through March 31 on any day that is forecast to have temperatures at or below freezing, according to information provided by the health department.

Those who struggle with homelessness are often exposed to the elements and are particularly vulnerable during the winter months, which is why Human Services Programs operates a cold-weather shelter every evening from Nov. 15 until March 30, according to HSP Associate Director of Housing and Shelter Carina Canon.

After a record number of clients used the shelter last year — 212 unique clients, compared with 143 unique clients in the winter of 2012-2013 — HSP asked those who planned to use the shelter this year to sign up in advance, registering 80 people, according to Canon. The shelter has been averaging 35 clients per night thus far, and while it is technically operating over capacity, she said it appears to be manageable.

"We have a procedure in place to be able to utilize the [Westminster Senior and Community Center] in case of an emergency," she said. "We have not used that [procedure] yet. We are holding off because it adds another cost burden because we would need more staff. … If we get a really, really bad cold spell, we will have to modify our plans as we go. We don't have any plans to turn anybody away."

HSP does more than simply operate shelters, however, and Canon said that those who have housing but have trouble paying for heat or electricity this winter should call HSP about their energy assistance unit, which can help with energy bills or the cost of heating oil.

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"That's a large part of what we do here," she said. "That really happens more often than people being homeless."

It's not just the homeless or those struggling financially who are at risk from extreme cold weather, Taylor said; there is also the elderly population, which he said has many people living alone and independently at home in Carroll County. While the health department cannot release specific details, he noted that the one cold-related death reported in Carroll was an elderly woman who was not facing homelessness.

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There are some services that exist to help ensure seniors living alone are OK in the wintertime, such as the nonprofit Caring Carroll, according to Barbara Rodgers, director of the community health promotion bureau at the health department. Ultimately, however, Rodgers believes it's important that community members look out for one another, especially senior citizens.

"We can check on them every so often, but we're saying it's important for them to have neighbors that are checking up on them this time of year when the weather is kind of questionable," she said.

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

More information

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Warming centers: The six branches of the Carroll County Public Library function as warming centers 9 a.m.-8:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays now through March 31. The five senior and community centers serve as warming centers 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, call Madeline Morey at 410-386-3600.

Cold-weather shelter and heating assistance: For information on the cold-weather shelter or the Human Services Programs energy assistance program, call 410-857-2999.

Cold-weather tips and recommendations: The Carroll County Health Department hosts tips and recommendations for staying safe in cold weather on its website at http://www.carrollhealthdepartment.dhmh.md.gov.


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