AUSTIN (KXAN) — Concerned family members and even residents of some senior living facilities across the Austin area reported they are still without power heading into Friday night.
KXAN investigators have been fielding concerns about lengthy outages at several skilled nursing and assisted living facilities that house older and often medically-vulnerable people.
Austin Energy said it prioritizes power restoration at these facilities, along with other critical locations such as hospitals and 911 call centers, but a spokesperson told KXAN Friday night they still had critical locations that had not been restored.
The spokesperson explained these outages are complex for Austin Energy crews. For example, these facilities may be located in areas that need multiple repairs. He could not give KXAN updates about specific locations and facilities.
During the historic winter storm in February 2021, Austin Energy told KXAN it categorized its critical load customers into categories: Tier One circuits serve area hospitals, 911 or telecommunication centers, the airport, water treatment plants, wastewater plants and — because of the way the system is set up — any of the nearby homes or businesses that share the circuit.
Tier Two circuits contain places such as nursing homes, detention facilities and ambulatory clinics. Austin Energy did not detail a full list of critical infrastructure, for safety reasons.
During a forced outage or rolling blackout event, such as in 2021, Austin Energy said it does everything it can to avoid shutting off power to critical infrastructure. However, this designation does not guarantee these locations will keep their lights on when localized outages — caused by ice or tree limbs on power lines — affect power at these locations during a winter weather event.
In 2021, Austin Energy told KXAN that Austin Homeland Security and Emergency Management was also available to provide assistance to nursing homes in crisis.
Lakeway Mayor Tom Kilgore told KXAN on Friday night he was “deeply frustrated” to see some assisted living facilities in his area still without power.
“Here we are just trying to take care of our most vulnerable citizens,” he said.
Many Texas nursing homes and assisted living facilities have generators on-site for backup power, but hundreds still do not, according to a survey conducted by Texas Health and Human Services.
The survey was conducted at the urging of state lawmakers, after a bill requiring these devices at senior facilities failed during the 2021 legislative session.
The survey revealed 99% of nursing homes that responded to the survey had a generator, and 47% of responding assisted living facilities reported having them.
Far fewer facilities reported having a generator that provides heating or cooling capabilities during a power outage. 50% of responding nursing homes with generators and 57% of assisted living facilities with generators said those devices powered heating systems and equipment, including hot water.
Some facilities confirmed their generators provide heat to at least part of the building, according to the survey. Locations commonly listed as being heated or cooled by a generator included hallways, lobbies, dining rooms, and common areas.
If you or your loved one is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, and you would like to connect with the KXAN investigative team, please email investigator Avery Travis at email@example.com.