Sudbury

Vulnerable persons registry 1st of its kind

The first vulnerable persons registry has been launched in Sault Ste. Marie, inspired by the death of a disabled 21-year-old man.
Melanie Wheelan, mother of Lewis Wheelan, speaks during a news conference announcing the start of the Vulnerable Persons registry. (Steve Howard)

The first vulnerable persons registry has been launched in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., inspired by the death of a disabled 21-year-old man.

The database will hold information on individuals who are disabled and can't care for themselves so in the event of a blackout, flood or other emergency police and paramedics will be able to give priority to those on the list.

The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre started work on the registry after the death of Lewis Wheelan.

Wheelan lost both his legs, his right arm and suffered severe burns over half his body in a workplace accident in 2001. He was left without the ability to control his body temperature.

On Aug. 14, 2003, a blackout left his apartment building without air conditioning.

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Wheelan's sister Sarah Wheelan said the then 21-year-old had started to get his life back on track before he died. Although the family said they don't know the exact cause of death, they suspect the lack of air conditioning may have been a factor.

"Power wasn't restored for 22 hours in that building," Sarah Wheelan said. "He passed away on the 15th … and his body was found the next afternoon."

Kimberley LeClair, Vulnerable Persons Registry co-ordinator. (Steve Howard)

Kimberly LeClair helped create the registry and works at the Innovation Centre. She said other communities are already taking notice of the database.

"The number 1 question that is being raised across the province is how do we know where our vulnerable citizens are in an emergency," LeClair said.

So far 10 people have been registered, but LeClair believes there are more than 1,000 people in Sault Ste. Marie alone who could benefit from the registry.

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