Left in the Dark: The Impact of the 2021 Texas Blackout on Long-Term Care Residents and the Need to Improve Emergency Preparedness

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

“The Texas blackouts in February 2021 cast much of the state into darkness, leaving millions of residents without power for days as an arctic front blanketed the central United States with sub-freezing temperatures. Residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Texas were hit hard by the direct and indirect effects of the blackout, including widespread water system failures that left nearly half the state’s residents without access to potable water.

More than 500 nursing homes in Texas reported incidents, including electricity outages, water shortages and evacuations, to the State’s health department. Another 600 assisted living facilities reported being affected. The Texas Long-Term Care Ombudsman, charged by federal and state law with representing the interest of residents, reported that more than 80 long-term care facilities were evacuated. The Texas Ombudsman, Patty Ducayet, said the winter storms and ensuing blackout were the worst disaster she has experienced in 15 years in the position.

This report (130 pages) tells the story of the older adults and people with disabilities living in long-term care facilities who were affected by this disaster. It shines a light on other disasters that have affected nursing homes in more than a dozen states since 2018, including our home states of Oregon and Pennsylvania. The report also highlights troubling findings by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which identified serious emergency preparedness shortfalls at nursing homes in eight states. Finally, the report lays out recommendations that seek to address the problems identified.”

Please share and review this significant report with your team and colleagues.  Start with the Forward from Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and review all of the pieces, including the Recommendations and Appendixes.

There’s a lesson here for all of us – citizens, lawmakers, regulators, families and providers.

“With more than 1.1 million people living in nearly 15,000 nursing homes across our nation, these providers are a critical component of the nation’s health care infrastructure. With recent projections showing that 80 million people aged 65 or older will be living in the United States by 2040—twice the number in 2000—we have a collective responsibility to work together to ensure nursing homes are delivering quality care.

These issues will not solve themselves; they require hard work, investment and compromise by Congress, federal and state regulators, and stakeholders. We hope that this report will contribute to that important discussion.”