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Winter storm forced evacuations at 33 long-term care facilities

A total of 106 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Greater Houston reported an “emergency event” to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

HOUSTON — More than 100 Houston-area long-term care facilities reported emergencies to the state during last week’s winter storm, and some were forced to evacuate residents because they had no generators to keep power on.

At times, it was a scramble to protect the vulnerable, according to the non-profit advocacy group Families for Better Care.

“We hear calls from families about how they had to come pick up their loved ones in the middle of the night and relocate them,” said executive director Brian Lee. “Facilities could have been prepared, much better prepared, for this type of event.”

A total of 106 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Greater Houston reported an “emergency event” to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The agency’s region 6 covers Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Matagorda, Montgomery, Waller, Walker and Wharton counties.

The HHSC data also reveal 33 facilities had to evacuate or transfer residents, and 25 of those reported having no generator.

The Legacy at Long Meadow, an assisted living facility in Richmond, evacuated 40 residents, the most in region 6 according to the state data.

“We were anticipating slow, rolling outages,” said executive director Christopher Wiley. “What we were expecting and the reality were two different things.”

Wiley said staff safely transferred residents to a sister community in Katy, which does have a generator.

“This event will certainly be a factor in our discussions about the extent of our backup power needs moving forward,” Wiley said.

But for assisted living facilities such as The Legacy at Long Meadow, there are no state requirements to have permanent generators on site. They are only required at nursing facilities where life-support systems are used.

“We believe that there should be tougher requirements for these facilities in place and strong enforcement when it comes to emergency preparation. You would think that Texas and other states would learn what Florida learned,” advocate Lee said.

In 2017, 12 residents at a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out power and left the facility like an oven inside. The tragedy sparked a new state law requiring generators at all long-term care facilities.

“The Texas legislature needs to require a better job from these facilities to keep our loved ones safe,” Lee said.

A spokesperson for HHSC said it investigates anytime a facility has to transfer or evacuate residents to determine if it had appropriate emergency plans in place. If a facility fails to notify HHSC, it can by cited by the agency.