October 17, 2012 By Sarah Rich
St. Louis developed an online database registry so residents with functional needs can be contacted by public health authorities in the event of an emergency. During emergencies, particularly ones that may require an evacuation, authorities can contact enrollees to help them get to safety.
Residents of any age who have functional needs that may prevent them from helping themselves during an emergency — whether it is due to a disability, age or other ailment — may be eligible to sign up for the Functional Needs Registry, which was developed under the St. Louis City Health Commissioner’s Investigation Authority.
According to the city, data gathered from enrollees through the registry can only be accessed and shared with public health authorities and co-investigators while planning for or during an emergency. None of the information is public record. Authorities who have access to the information are required to follow confidentiality restrictions implemented by the St. Louis Department of Health and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Participating in the registry is voluntary, and individuals who do enroll can decide how much personal information to submit. Dave Sykora, executive director of the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging, said since the registry was implemented, more than 4,000 people have registered.
After a resident submits his or her information for inclusion in the Functional Needs Registry, a review team screens and approves the data. Once OK’d, the database is updated with the person’s information, including his or her name, address, phone number and emergency contact information. The registry also is designed to allow individuals to provide other pertinent information such as medications they’re taking and insurance information.
“If they’re willing to provide that information, then we can track that so that in the event we do have to evacuate them, we would have it,” Sykora said.
He said the idea for a centralized registry arose in 2006 after a major storm hit St. Louis leaving the city without power for nearly nine days. At the time, the Area Agency on Aging only had one database it could use to contact the functional needs community. However, the database wasn’t comprehensive, since only residents who received certain government services were listed in it.
For example, some of the registrants were individuals who had signed up for the agency’s home-delivery meal program. But Sykora said the agency had no way of knowing how to contact individuals who could be potentially vulnerable during an emergency who weren’t registered with any of the agency’s services.
Once the registry was developed, individuals already enrolled in services like the meal-delivery program were grandfathered into the centralized database since their information was already on record for receiving government services.
St. Louis’ 2006 storm occurred shortly after Hurricane Katrina, a factor that also influenced the city to develop a centralized registry, Sykora said. The Functional Needs Registry was implemented just a couple years after.
When the St. Louis storm hit, the National Guard helped individuals get to safety, but no online system was used to do so.
“They ended up essentially going down the street knocking on doors, because we really didn’t have a tool to determine who were vulnerable or had needs,” Sykora said.
Earlier this year, the Functional Needs Registry was named by Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation as one the 111 Bright Ideas in government.
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