Scalding water kills too many seniors: coroner
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 | 2:56 PM ET
A Quebec coroner is sounding the alarm over a growing number of cases of seniors being killed by scalding water.
Fifteen seniors died in Quebec between 2000 and 2009 after being burned by hot water, in most cases in the bath.
The coroner's office said in a two-year period beginning in 2006, 81 people were hospitalized in the province after being scalded, and nearly half of them were seniors.
Coroner Catherine Rudel-Tessier said seniors are more vulnerable than the general population.
"Their skin is more fragile, their healing is more difficult, so they develop a lot of problems with the burns and then they die," said the coroner.
Rudel-Tessier investigated the death of 94-year-old Willard Wilson in a province-run seniors residence on Montreal's West Island in January 2009.
Wilson fell into the bathtub while shaving and was not able to get out of the bath.
He was found by staff, severely burned and in a lot of pain, and he died soon after in hospital.
"Living 90 years and then dying like that, in those sufferings ... that's not nice," said Rudel-Tessier.
The water temperature that killed Wilson was nearly 60 C.
A simple solution: coroner
Rudel-Tessier said temperature control valves could reduce the number of injuries caused by hot water burns, particularly in seniors residences.
In 2005, the province's Construction Code set a limit of 49 C for the water temperature coming out of faucets, but the rule only applies to new plumbing installations.
The coroner said since the majority of elderly people live in residences built before the limit was imposed, the law should be extended to older buildings as well.
Rudel-Tessier would also like the water temperature limit to be dropped to 40 C, to reduce the risk of seniors being scalded to death.
The Régie du batiment du Quebec, which oversees building inspections in the province, has been leading a consultation process looking at implementing a water temperature limit of 43 C.
"43 C could burn [people], but it won't cause deaths," said Marjolaine Veillette, a spokesperson for the government agency.
The agency expects to release its recommendations to Quebec's Labour Minister by the end of the year.
Quebec's Association for the Rights of the Retired said the government should follow the coroner's recommendations to avoid any more deaths of elderly people.
"There are never criminal charges in matters of negligence against the elderly," said president Louis Plamondon.
Plamondon said when the negligence leads to death, criminal charges should be laid.
The association also wants every death of an elderly person in a private or province-run residence to be reported to the coroner's office.
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