The St. Louis Special Needs Registry is a database that the City's human services and public safety entities use during emergencies and disasters to find and help our most vulnerable citizens, mostly our neighbors who are seniors or have disabilities.
During the past week, City staffers used the registry and a "reverse 9-1-1" calling system to check up on seniors and other residents with particular sensitivities to sustained hot weather. For the next couple of days, other staffers will walk through neighborhoods with the same database personally checking in on our neighbors to make sure they are OK.
The Special Needs registry currently has several thousand names, a fraction of those who could benefit from it. There is one reason for that. The personal information in the registry is by federal law kept confidential for people getting assistance through Medicaid, in-home meals, or other federally funded programs. But, personal information about anyone else would be public information. The information would be available to salesmen, scam artists, and even potential thieves. Because we do not want to make vulnerable citizens even more vulnerable, we only include in the registry people whose personal information is currently protected by law.
Last legislative session, the City's lobbyists sought a fix for that. We supported a state law that would exempt information in a special needs registry from the state's Sunshine Law. (Normally, I am for more openness in government, not less. But, this is an important exception.)
Assuming some clarification of the laws, the Special Needs registry could be even more special. In a fire or flood, the database could be useful in identifying a person with a mobility disability who lives on an upper floor of a building or in a flood-prone area along the River Des Peres.
Making the change in state law will be a City high priority when the Missouri General Assembly comes back next year. In the meantime, the City will continue to ensure that any expansion of the database will address understandable concerns for its security and privacy.