Vulnerable Persons Registry

I woke up this morning and the first thing I did after putting on the coffee was check the status of the fires.  There is very little wind today so that must be a good thing for the fire fighters.  It is actually quite sunny, a good indicator that the smoke is either subsiding which means they are gaining the upper hand on the fires, or it going in a very different direction.  The bad news is with temperatures on there way up and a predicted high of 28 C degrees today it will complicate the efforts of the fires fighters out there in the bush.  However Kelowna is surrounded by forest so fires are part of life.  I am sure that is reassuring to the 2500+ people that are currently displaced.

Last evening the winds were so bad they actually took down a tree right outside my dining room window and I didn’t hear it.  I keep those blinds closed to avoid too much sun during the day which helps keep the temperature down in my condo.  So I wasn’t aware of this until I went out for my evening exercise wheel.

This morning I got to wondering about the emergency planning in the Valley.  While living on Vancouver Island many years ago, an area renowned for power outages (an issue when you live on an Island), I approached the Cowichan Valley Emergency Preparedness organization to see if they had a “vulnerable persons registry“.  A vulnerable persons registry is nothing more than a database of individuals in the community who may need extra attention.  For the sake of emergency preparedness that would include persons with disabilities living independently but dependant on equipment and power to maintain their independence.

This had to be around year 2000 because I was the executive director at the time for the Cowichan Valley Disability Resource Centre.  One of the roles of the Disability Resource Centre was to be aware of the needs of their target population.  It’s difficult to be a disability resource centre if you don’t know who your target market is and what their needs may be.

I was aware of untold numbers of people who were dependent on oxygen at home but there were many other who were dependent on power based equipment to live independently.  Things as simple as power wheelchairs, which require daily charging, to more sophisticated equipment like home dialysis devices which are usually used every second day.  A service like home dialysis can be very beneficial when you live in remote areas or one of the smaller islands (even worse for power outages).  The Committee members had no idea what I was referring to.  I only raise that part because the local health authority played a major role with emergency planning yet seemed less than knowledgeable when it came to the needs of the community.

I had a number of friends who used Diaphragm Pacing Systems for nighttime breathing purposes.  Many high level quadriplegics, ALS and advanced MS victims use these types of breathing aides either all day or when lying down.  I have a number of friends who are high level quadriplegics who gulp breath when sitting but require a Diaphragm Pacing Systems at night.  These devices keep them breathing while they sleep.  They are designed to sound an alert in the event of a crisis or power outage complete with, generally, a four hour back-up battery.  However I have seen power outages last as long as five days on some of the islands so knowing where the people are should be an important aspect of emergency planning.

Most of them are also dependent on power lift systems to get out of bed or to get in and out of their homes.  Things like Angel lifts, electric hoyer and ceiling track lifts allow people to enjoy a level of independence unheard of even forty years ago.  CMHC has actually established building policies around these devices but we still need to know where these individuals are located.

If you lose your power for four days I would think you would like to know that the local emergency preparedness people would know where you are.  I would also think it would be beneficial to the local first responders to know there was a canister of compressed oxygen in the residence they are entering.  These are work place safety issue that could be very important, like in the current forest fire situation here in Kelowna.  Even the awareness of service animals could be important.

Well the Cowichan Valley Emergency Preparedness gave me the run around by hiding behind client confidentiality.  That’s an argument I have a hard time with considering information is given everyday in the name of national security but can’t be databased for individual safety.  To often I hear the client confidentiality argument when it is convenient for the powers that be to avoid dealing with an issue.  In reality all the relevant information is already out there.

Government agencies know who they are funding for equipment and support.  Every medical supply house in the area have their own customer database, coordinating this information should be pretty straight forward.  Particularly for oxygen which requires a regular delivery schedule.  Very few of this target group does not have some type of service that has been arranged for visits but may not attend in the event of a major emergency like a forest fire or a storm related power outage.  The information is there, it just needs to be coordinated.

So I ask, does the Kelowna and area emergency planning committee have a vulnerable persons registry?  Did they have anyone in the fire zone who could have benefited from this type of list?  Or are we an after thought!

Just one man’s opinion!

Neglectful Use of Policy

This recent tragedy at the assisted living centre in L’Isle-Verte, Que re-opened an old concern of mine and one I have raised often.  In fact I raised this with the Cowichan Valley Emergency Preparedness Committee in the late 90’s following an extreme storm and major power outage (some places for four days) on Vancouver Island.  Those power outages were not uncommon on many of the smaller islands.  I raised it again with the Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs Emergency Preparedness group following the massive fires in Slave Lake.  And I raised it directly with the Minister responsible for Municipal Affairs following the Calgary floods.

I thought my concern was pretty straight forward and didn’t need a lot of explanation.  I thought wrong!  My concern, were the various emergency preparedness organizations aware of individuals with disabilities using life sustaining equipment at home?  Equipment dependent on electricity like power wheelchairs, lift systems including stair lifts, breathing apparatuses (like night time ventilators), home dialysis machines (yes there are such things), etc.  There are many people living very independently with the assistance of equipment.  You lose your power you lose the use of the equipment.

Much of this equipment has back-up power capabilities but it is time limited.  I have a good friend in Mill Bay who needs to use a respirator to sleep.  He is what they refer to as a gulp breather and when he is laying down he needs the assistance of a respirator.  His equipment has a six hour back-up battery so if the power goes out in the middle of the night the alarm goes off to wake him and he can use his lift system to get sitting back up.  His lift system is ceiling track and the battery will hold a charge for up to 24 hours dependant on how much usage.

In some of the more remote areas of our country (and that doesn’t necessarily translate into far north) there are numerous life extending events that go on in ones home.  Home dialysis comes to mind but some paediatric cardiac equipment also jumps out at me.  The amount of individuals with COPD concerns are also using oxygen at home which is something I think any first response rescuers should be aware of.  If I’m going to ask a bunch of volunteer fire fighters to head into a burning building, knowing there was a tank of compressed oxygen on the premise would be a good thing to know.

Scooter after Calgary flood
This will never be repairable!

During the floods in Calgary many people were without power for days.  Longer than any battery life that I am aware of.  This scooter was in an underground parking lot of a seniors high-rise and it will never be usable again.  Slave Lake was without power for days leaving anyone needing power for their equipment cut off.   It was after the Slave Lake fire that I contacted the provincial emergency preparedness office to see how issues like this were treated.

I received the same type of response that I had received ten years earlier from their BC equivalent.  I was told that due to “confidentiality” this information couldn’t be collected.  I find that answer to be very weak and the whole protection of privacy an excuse for government to ignore some of the most vulnerable members of the community.  They not only jeopardize the vulnerable, they put many of our first responders at risk.  As I mentioned earlier a container of compressed oxygen should be something those first responders should be aware of.

It strikes me as odd that I can type “oxygen supply house, Calgary” into my Google search bar and be bombarded later by related ads for the Calgary area.  And yet governments don’t want to create vulnerable people registries for emergency respond purposes.  It’s not even information that is hard to retrieve.  It is not like you are heading down to the corner Mac’s to get your equipment.  Every medical and oxygen supply house has a database of their customers.  This would not be hard to coordinate but so far I am aware of no one stepping forward to tackle this problem.

As these natural disasters seem to be happening with greater frequency maybe it is time some forward thinking non-profit stepped forward with a revenue generating program.  You know a “here’s a market, here’s a service” type of thing.

Of course government goes on about protecting the information rights of the individual while ignoring the safety factor.  And yet when, say, the Children’s Hospital Foundation wants a poster child for their annual $100 a ticket new home raffle, confidentiality goes out the window.  As a side note have you ever noticed that none of these raffled million dollar homes are ever wheelchair accessible.  To me that really muddies the water around the whole “understanding” issue.

So with this said, does it ring a chord with you?  Do you feel your protection or the protection of your loved ones is better served by NOT having the need for power to their residence identified?  If this is an issue that concerns you contact your political representative on every level.  Start making your voice heard!

Just one man’s opinion!