LUMBERTON — Emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses are up as near triple-digit temperatures show no sign of leaving Robeson County.
Southeastern Regional Medical Center treated 21 patients in its Emergency Department from July 11 to Tuesday for heat-related illness and/or dehydration, according to hospital spokesperson Amanda Crabtree. That represents 54 percent of the 39 patients who have visited the ED with heat-related symptoms in the past 60 days.
“Southeastern Regional Medical Center has experienced an increase in patients presenting with complaints of heat-related illness. These have included symptoms ranging from dehydration to change in mental status. These symptoms can require immediate medical attention,” said Sonja Hilburn, director of emergency services at Southeastern Health.
Forecasts are calling for temperatures to hover near 100 through the weekend, with heat index values climbing past that mark. The heat index measures how hot it feels outside when humidity is taken into account.
A heat advisory is in effect for Robeson and surrounding counties through 8 tonight, warning residents of heat index values from 106 and 109 degrees.
Today’s forecast is calling for a high of 99 degrees, with heat index values topping out around 108, although winds up to 13 mph could provide some relief. Friday will bring a slight chance of thunderstorms, mainly after 3 p.m., and a high of 96.
According to North Carolina State University, the highest temperature recorded in Robeson County since 1901 was 108 degrees on July 21, 1926. According to the National Weather Service, the average high temperature in Lumberton in July is about 90 degrees.
With the heat apparently here to stay, Hilburn says anyone experiencing fever, confusion, increased heart rate, lack of sweating and faintness should “get to a cool, shady place and lie down.” A person experiencing heat stroke should not be given fluids.
“Placing a cool, wet cloth to neck, armpits, and groin can assist with decreasing body temperatures. Please remember to also drink lots of fluids, preferably non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated. If confusion or mental status changes, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department,” she said. “It is very important to keep a close check on family and neighbors that may not have air-conditioning. Senior citizens are at a greater risk for heat exhaustion.”
Local utility providers are weathering the heat OK.
Lamar Brayboy, director of Electric Utilities for Lumberton, said the city hasn’t yet seen a strain on its power infrastructure as customers crank up their air-conditioning.
But the city is working to make sure utility workers stay safe.
“The main thing is keeping the employees cool and staying hydrated as much as possible,” he said. ” … They are starting early and taking as many breaks as they need.”
Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation is also staying cool.
“Loads have been much higher over the last couple weeks in particular because of the increased use but we haven’t had any issues,” spokesperson Walter White said.
Duke Energy is reminding customers how to keep their bills low as temperatures climb. The company recommends replacing dirty air filters, turning the air off when the house is empty, turning of lights in rooms that aren’t being used, using fans in occupied rooms and keeping doors closed as much as possible.
“Set your AC to the highest comfortable setting. Every degree increase saves you about 5 percent in cooling costs. Energy Star recommends a minimum set point of 78 degrees,” a Duke Energy statement says.
Residents looking for a way to beat the heat can take a dip in one of the county’s swimming pools. A public pool, Dr. Arthur Bradford Pool, is located at 625 E. Blue St. in St. Pauls. The pool is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m., and admission costs $3.
Kredina and Monquial Chatman traveled from Lumberton Wednesday afternoon with their grandmother to spend a few hours swimming at the pool.
“The heat has been pretty mild for me, but I’ve been under the shelter,” said Linda Chatman, the children’s grandmother. “They’ve been in the water since 1:30. We came from Lumberton because this is a public pool and I knew about it because I used to work at St. Pauls Elementary School.”
Robeson County is also home to several private pools: Woodside Pool in Lumberton; Lumberton Racquet Club and Swimming Pool; Southeastern Lifestyle Center in Lumberton; and the English E. Jones Health and Physical Education Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets. Staff writer Gabrielle Isaac contributed to this report.