Islanders encouraged to register for vulnerable persons’ registry

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MANITOULIN – Amanda Sheppard is hopeful that Manitoulin’s eight municipalities will each emulate Sault Ste. Marie’s vulnerable persons’ registry (VPR). These voluntary VPRs would then be used to assist municipalities’ emergency response teams whenever it is deemed necessary. 

Ms. Sheppard is associated with Sault Ste. Marie’s Acorn Information Solutions department, part of that city’s Innovation Centre.

Ms. Sheppard explained to The Expositor that the Sault Ste. Marie VPR was created in 2011. It was sparked by the death of a young Soo man who passed away during the 2003 Ontario-wide blackout that saw 50 million people in Ontario and eight US states without power. 

According to the Soo VPR website, in 2001, Lewis Wheelan had just finished his first year of university when he accepted a summer job as a general labourer, clearing brush under electrical distribution lines. On his second day of work, a co-worker cut a tree that caused a power line to fall on Lewis, shocking him with 7,200 volts of electricity three separate times.

The massive injury resulted in 65 percent of his body being covered in burns and three amputations, including his legs, right arm and shoulder, leaving him in a wheelchair. As a result of many skin grafts, Lewis required an air conditioned environment permanently as he could no longer regulate his own body temperature.

On August 14, 2003, two years later, the southwestern Ontario apartment where Lewis lived following his accident lost power in the massive blackout for 22 hours, which meant he did not have access to the air conditioning he needed to survive, nor did his phones work for him to ask for help. While his family tried to call, he was not able to answer.

Lewis passed away in the early morning of August 15, before power was restored, at age 21.

The Wheelan family worked hard to ensure their son did not die in vain and, in 2011, his home city of Sault Ste. Marie created its first VPR and it has been running successfully ever since, Ms. Sheppard said.

“Last year, we had lots of push from other municipalities so we expanded from Echo Bay to Killarney, with the exception of Elliot Lake,” Ms. Sheppard said. “Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we will cover the area from White River to French River, not including Sudbury.”

The VPR, which is completely voluntary, confidential and free, compiles a list of the most vulnerable citizens in each community, including those who depend on reliable electricity to power for life-saving equipment, those who live with mobility, hearing or vision impairments, those with developmental/intellectual or cognitive impairments and those who live with mental health issues.

Ms. Sheppard gave the example of a flood in a localized part of a community. “The emergency response team lead could then pull up the VPR and see who on the list lives in the affected area,” she explained, noting other scenarios could be a snowstorm that knocks the power out for long periods of time.

“It’s completely free, you can cancel at any time, completely voluntary and confidential,” Ms. Sheppard reiterated, noting that anyone with access to the information must sign a confidentiality agreement.

Ms. Sheppard will reach out to each registrant every six months for any updates. She is in charge of all new applications and registrations. Anyone who is on the list most themselves agree to be there, most often with a signature unless there’s a power of attorney who is able to sign on the registrant’s behalf.

Anyone living in a long-term care home or assisted living facility is not eligible for the registry as their safety is already looked after by other parties.

“If you think your grandma would really benefit, you can call me and I will call her and talk to her about it—I’m more than available to call and talk to them directly,” Ms. Sheppard said.

“I’m the face of the VPR,” she added cheerfully.

Not all the Island municipalities have responded to Ms. Sheppard’s request for a seat at the council table to talk about the VPR, but she said she’s hopeful. “The program is funded through the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board, so there’s no cost to any of the townships and very minimal work to do.”

The VPR “provides peace of mind that someone will be looking out for you and that someone will be checking in and thinking of you in an emergency.”

The Manitoulin VPR will launch this fall, so stay tuned for information and advertisements in the pages of this newspaper next month. For more information visit soovpr.com.