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Central Texas experienced historic winter weather the week of Feb. 14, with a stretch of days below freezing. Sleet followed snow followed freezing rain, leading to a breakdown of the electric grid and widespread power outages. Water reservoirs were depleted and frozen pipes burst, leaving some without service for days.

Texas Was 'Not Prepared' To Care For Medically Vulnerable People During The Severe Weather, Lawmaker Says

A person carries a bucket filled with firewood in the Travis Heights neighborhood of South Austin 
on Tuesday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
A person carries a bucket filled with firewood in the Travis Heights neighborhood of South Austin on Tuesday.

When Cornell Woolridge finally ventured out of his Northwest Austin home to get water and food following the extreme weather last week, he noticed police vehicles outside an elderly neighbor’s house.

“It left me with a lump with my throat,” he said.

A younger man was crying outside the house. It was his neighbor’s son, who had just learned his father had passed away inside.

“I asked, ‘Did he have power? Was it related to the Texas blackout?’” Woolridge said. “And the young man said, ‘Yeah, he got power a day or so ago,’ but he said he was also on dialysis, and he really hadn’t been able to make his scheduled appointments.”

The man got choked up, so Woolridge offered his help and condolences, which is all he could do at that point.

“I walked back home, you know, with tears in my eyes," he said, "and also just angry finding out about a neighbor of mine passing, likely in some way because of the power outage and not being able to get to really crucial medical services like dialysis.”

Dialysis is used to filter blood for patients with kidney issues. It's a lifeline for thousands of Texans.

State emergency officials had raised concerns earlier in the week that many vulnerable Texans were facing serious issues getting needed medical care, including dialysis, in the days following the storms.

Power outages and water issues temporarily shuttered many dialysis clinics and other medical facilities. In a news conference Wednesday, Nim Kidd, the state’s chief emergency official, said the state had been working to help those patients find access to care.

But state Rep. John Bucy, a Democrat who lives in the same community as Woolridge and his neighbor who died, said the state was clearly “not prepared for these kinds of emergencies” and crises.

“We are not prepared, especially, to take care of the most vulnerable in our communities,” he said, “our elderly [and] those who have medical needs.”

Bucy said he also heard from a lot of people who were losing power for their oxygen machines. He said he visited a nearby retirement home that went several days without power.

And while local governments in the area quickly put together “charging stations” for folks on oxygen, Bucy said, there wasn’t as clear of a solution for people on dialysis.

“I never heard much guidance on dialysis problem-solving,” he said. “So that’s just a very sad area where the ball has been dropped.”

Bucy said it’s been heartening to see neighbors and community members help each other out in the aftermath of the storms. The government should also be investing in its medical infrastructure, he said, so vulnerable Texans can get crucial care in a crisis.

“If we want to be prepared we have to invest in it, and that’s the role of government,” Bucy said. “Hopefully, this is a very sad wake-up call.”

Got a tip? Email Ashley Lopez at alopez@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.

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