October 11, 2018
HHS Secretary Azar declares public health emergency in Georgia due to Hurricane Michael
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in Georgia due to damage from Hurricane Michael. The declaration follows President Trump’s emergency declaration for the state and gives the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.
“We are working closely with state health authorities and private sector partners from hospitals and other healthcare facilities to save lives and protect public health after Hurricane Michael,” Secretary Azar said. “This declaration will help ensure that our fellow Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need.”
To assist state and local officials in lifesaving efforts for medically vulnerable people, HHS also provided state health officials with information on Medicare beneficiaries who rely on dialysis or use special medical equipment at home, such as oxygen concentrators, in the potentially impacted areas. For these people power outages can be life threatening within hours. CMS also activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response Program to monitor dialysis access and needs of these facilities after the hurricane.
HHS moved about 400 medical and public health personnel along with their caches of medical equipment into impacted areas, ready to respond to medical and public health needs in Florida and Georgia. An additional 300 personnel are now on alert from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Some of these medical personnel are working with Florida Urban Search and Rescue teams to triage people rescued. Other HHS medical personnel are working alongside local hospital staffs in providing medical care in hospital emergency departments in Florida.
HHS teams also can provide basic medical care for evacuees at shelters, help the health department with disease surveillance, offer behavioral health support for residents and responders, and more. HHS incident managers are working with state officials to determine whether federal medical and public health support is needed in Georgia.
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 Disaster Distress 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.
Additionally, the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to state and local agencies and community organizations to help ensure equal access to emergency services and the appropriate sharing of medical information during Hurricane Michael, including how federal civil rights laws apply in an emergency, how HIPAA laws apply in an emergency. OCR also provided a HIPAA Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness Decision Tool.
Secretary Azar declared a public health emergency in Florida Tuesday. In declaring the public health emergencies in Florida and Georgia and authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Azar acted under his authority in the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to October 9, 2018, in Georgia and October 7, 2018, in Florida.
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.