October 9, 2018
HHS Secretary Azar declares public health emergency in Florida due to Hurricane Michael
Following President Trump’s emergency declaration for Florida, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in the state as Hurricane Michael makes landfall. The declaration gives the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.
“Hurricane Michael poses a significant threat to the health and safety of those in its path,” Secretary Azar said. “These actions help ensure that our fellow Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need.”
HHS also staged approximately 125 personnel from the National Disaster Medical System and an Incident Management Team, along with caches of medical equipment in Mobile, Alabama, and Jacksonville, Florida, so these assets are available quickly to help state and local authorities respond to communities’ medical needs. HHS placed about 100 additional personnel on alert from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps to assist if needed after the storm.
In addition, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and CMS coordinated to provide information to Florida health officials on the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on dialysis or use special medical equipment at home and the type of equipment, such as oxygen concentrators, in the potentially impacted areas. With this information, health and emergency management agencies can respond better, particularly after power outages, to save lives.
CMS also activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response Program to monitor dialysis access and needs of these facilities after the hurricane makes landfall. Through a CMS contract, this program provides technical assistance to End Stage Renal Disease Networks, kidney organizations, and other groups to ensure timely and efficient disaster preparedness, response and recovery for the kidney community.
To assist residents in the impacted area in coping with the stress of the disasters, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated the Disaster Distress Helpline. The helpline provides immediate 24/7, 365-days-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (for Spanish, press 2 or text Hablanos to 66746) to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
In declaring the public health emergency and authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Azar acted within his authority under the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to October 7, 2018.
Public health and safety information for Hurricane Michael can be found on the HHS emergency website, https://www.phe.gov/emergency/events/2018-Severe-Storms/Pages/default.aspx