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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 26, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
202-690-6343
media@hhs.gov

HHS brings medical and public health relief to US territories recovering from Hurricanes Maria, Irma

As part of the Trump Administration’s government-wide hurricane relief efforts in impacted U.S. territories, hundreds of medical personnel from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help survivors of Hurricanes Maria and Irma. HHS personnel have set up a medical base of operations in hard-hit San Juan following Hurricane Maria, and have begun providing care to local residents since opening the facility on Monday.

“In less than a month, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been devastated by two of the most massive hurricanes in decades,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by these catastrophic storms. We are grateful to our federal and territory partners who have been working with great urgency to clear airfields and ports, so that our teams can deliver essential medical care and assist territory agencies in meeting the public health, behavioral health, and human services needs emerging from this crisis.”

Personnel from HHS along with the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) worked to transport residents with chronic medical issues out of harm’s way after Hurricane Irma but before Hurricane Maria hit the islands. Through Federal Coordination Centers (FCC) set up in Atlanta, Jackson, Mississippi, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Columbia, South Carolina, by personnel from the DoD and VA, the patients have been transported to receive care in more secure locations.

To ensure that they were available to provide support as soon as possible after the storm passed, HHS personnel remained in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria hit the islands. Personnel from the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) set up a base of operations with medical equipment and supplies adjacent to Centro Medico, an emergency and trauma center in San Juan. Medical professionals from NDMS and U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps are staffing the location to assist the center and local hospitals that are seeing an overwhelming number of patients or are short-staffed as the territory works to respond and recover from the hurricanes. NDMS and USPHS personnel also are providing care at temporary medical sited in St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In addition, multiple HHS agencies coordinated with DoD and VA as well as health officials and dialysis centers in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Georgia, to evacuate 50 dialysis patients from St. Croix to Atlanta during the weekend.

HHS coordinated with non-governmental organizations to provide the patients with personal assistance services, emergency financial assistance and renal diets. HHS arranged for the patients to stay in hotels near Atlanta dialysis centers and to receive dialysis treatment. The coordination of resources was enabled by HHS’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ End Stage Renal Disease Networks and their partners.

To date, HHS has coordinated the transport of more than 150 dialysis patients and more than 130 critical care patients from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the continental United States due to the hurricanes.

A team of public health and environmental health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also deployed to assist Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with assessments of shelters, water systems and other environmental health needs. They will assess public health requirements so that HHS can respond to those needs.

HHS agencies are using every possible means to assist the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands health departments in providing information to residents to preempt widespread injury or illness as they clean up debris, flood-affected properties, and mold in the hot temperatures and combat mosquitoes that breed in standing water. HHS also is distributing public health information through the Puerto Rican diaspora communities in the continental United States.

The Disaster Distress Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for territory residents to aid people in coping with the behavioral health effects of the storm. Residents can call 1-800-985-5990 toll free or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to work with territory officials and the thousands of food and medical product firms in the U.S. territories affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria to assess the impact on their facilities. The FDA’s most immediate goal is to ensure the safety and availability of critical, medically necessary products used by patients and consumers in need. The FDA is working to help Puerto Rico and its considerable drug and medical device manufacturing base to ensure that supply of these products is maintained, and to return these workers to their jobs as soon as possible. The agency released a statement yesterday on these efforts to address the immediate consequences of the storm.

HHS is committed to meeting the medical and public health needs of communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition to the more than 300 HHS personnel on the islands, additional teams of HHS medical professionals remain available if needed.

Information on health, safety and HHS actions are available at www.phe.gov/emergency. Public Service Announcements with post-storm health tips are available at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/psa/index.html. Residents in the continental United States are encouraged to provide these tips to family members and friends in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Updates and health information 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 26, 2017

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