The Oregon Health Authority began distributing air conditioning units to Oregonians most at risk for heat-related illness amid record setting temperatures this week.
The health authority worked with the Oregon Department of Human Services to deliver hundreds of portable air conditioning units to community service providers — including distribution of 500 air conditioners just last weekend.
Portland Open Bible Church, Rockwood Community Development Corporation and Somali American Council of Oregon have been helping get the units to qualified Oregonians to help them get through the heat wave.
This includes Oregonians who are eligible to receive medical assistance from the state or federal government, or those who have received assistance in the past year.
Somali American Council of Oregon provides support services primarily to Somali and other African immigrant communities.
Council director Musse Olol said his organization didn’t receive enough air conditioners for everyone who needs one. However, he said many households in the community are benefitting from the opportunity to receive a free air conditioner.
“I found it the most spiritual rewarding work to do because you are actually giving a comfort to people that don’t have the financial means to actually get an AC,” he said.
Patrick Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, wrote in a statement, “These air conditioning units are a necessary step for building resilience to this health threat, particularly for those most vulnerable to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death.”
Lawmakers allocated $5 million to purchase and install the air conditioners through the passage of Senate Bill 1536 earlier this year. Because of the new law, these air conditioners can be installed even if a rental agreement doesn’t allow it, as long as it does not pose a safety hazard. The law was passed after last year’s deadly heat wave killed 69 people in Oregon.
Olol said those heat deaths hit his community, but he believes these air conditioners will save lives.
“We should have had enough for every elder that was at high risk of dying or getting sicker on hot days, and we lost some last year,” Olol said. “And hopefully this year, this program should be able to save some elders from succumbing to the heat.”
The state is expecting to distribute 3,000 units this summer, and will continue to work with community organizations to distribute air conditioners to individuals this week.
People enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan can contact their health provider to receive an air conditioner if needed.