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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 12, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
202-690-6343
media@hhs.gov

First HHS medical support team arrives in Florida Keys

Additional teams set up to provide care at other Florida locations

A National Disaster Medical System team from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services became part of the first wave of federal responders transported today into the Florida Keys as part of the Trump Administration's government-wide efforts to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Irma. The team will establish a mobile medical unit and begin providing medical care to assist a local hospital.

National Disaster Medical System personnel from Hawaii loading equipment and supplies on an aircraft to assist the state of Florida with public health and medical support in the Florida Keys
National Disaster Medical System personnel from Hawaii loading a US Coast Guard aircraft with equipment and supplies to assist the state of Florida with public health and medical support in the Florida Keys.

“The Florida Keys were particularly hard hit in this massive storm, and all current indicators are that the medical infrastructure is damaged and in some cases may be destroyed,” explained HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, M.D. “Our medical professionals are trained to provide care in austere conditions after disasters, and they’re arriving with the first wave of equipment and supplies they’ll need to help save lives.”

Additional medical personnel could follow at the state’s request. In other areas of Florida, HHS dispatched NDMS and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps teams to assist local healthcare workers in caring for evacuees in six shelters. So far the teams have seen approximately 100 patients.

In addition, HHS medical teams are providing care at a shelter in Puerto Rico and at an overwhelmed hospital emergency department in St. Thomas, and triaging evacuees from multiple islands as they reach Puerto Rico. The teams also embedded with Urban Search and Rescue to find dialysis patients and aided the U.S. Virgin Islands in evacuating these patients to Puerto Rico.

These medical professionals are among the more than 675 personnel HHS deployed to support the emergency response in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The remainder are providing response coordination, supporting emergency operations centers, or available for additional assignments from the states or U.S. territories.

To help the effected states and U.S. territories respond to the health impacts of the storm, HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D., signed public health emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services subsequently provided waivers to health care providers and facilities so that Americans who rely on Medicare, Medicaid or the Children Health Insurance Program (CHIP) could receive unimpeded care during the crisis. 

HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) employees continue to coordinate with the Department of State and Department of Defense to evacuate American citizens from the island of St. Martin.  The ACF Office of Refugee Resettlement initiated repatriation efforts to ensure that Americans were safely transported back to American soil and out of harm’s way beginning Saturday evening.  A total of 1,694 repatriates have safely touched ground in Puerto Rico and eventually back to the continental United States.

The Disaster Distress Helpline remains activated to aid people in coping with the behavioral health effects of the storm and help people in impacted areas connect with local behavioral health professionals. The helpline can be reached toll-free at 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. Since Hurricane Irma made landfall, the helpline has assisted more than 170 callers from impacted areas.

HHS also provided data to public health authorities in Florida to assist them in reaching Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electrically powered medical equipment at home. Power outages become life-or-death situations for people with these medical conditions.

The Department remains committed to meeting the medical and public health needs of communities across the southeast impacted by Hurricane Irma. Health tips for clean up after the hurricane are available at www.phe.gov/irma.

Critical updates also are available at:

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Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: September 12, 2017

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