New law requires wellness checks during crises for the medically fragile who depend on power

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Caroline Cheevers still recalls the panic. With Winter Storm Uri killing power across Houston, there seemed no help for her daughter, Hailey, a medically fragile 10-year-old who requires electricity to power the ventilator that keeps her alive.

Hotels were full or had no power. First responders were overwhelmed. And even though she’d signed up for a state registry meant to help first responders plan for how to care for medically fragile Texans during disasters, she and her husband were on their own, scrambling to take care of Hailey and their three other disabled children.

A new law may change that. Senate Bill 968, which went into effect Wednesday, requires counties and municipalities to perform wellness checks of their medically fragile residents during disasters or other emergencies.

During the deep freeze, the state’s disabled and medically fragile residents endured excruciating hardships, which in many cases proved fatal. In the months since the deep freeze, the tally of those who perished during the disaster has steadily grown. State numbers put the total at 111 deaths, but a Houston Chronicle analysis in April pegged the number at nearly twice that — many who died from lack of oxygen, kidney failure or other ailments caused by lack of medical treatment. And a recent analysis by Buzzfeed put the number even higher, well in excess of 700 deaths.

Disability Rights Texas attorney Stephanie Duke said concerns remain because jurisdictions are not required to participate with the STEAR registry — and many don’t.

“How many wellness checks are actually going to happen when you have jurisdictions that aren’t utilizing the info to begin with?” she said.

Read the full article on the Houston Chronicle website.