August 28, 2019
HHS Secretary Azar Declares Public Health Emergency for Puerto Rico Due to Hurricane Dorian
Following President Trump’s emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in the territory as Hurricane Dorian makes landfall. The declaration gives the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.
“While we continue to diligently work with officials in Puerto Rico to strengthen the healthcare system, we recognize that even the best prepared healthcare systems in the U.S. may need assistance when storms like Dorian threaten health and safety,” Secretary Azar said. “The actions we are taking today help ensure that our fellow citizens in the territory who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need.”
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 August 26, 2019.
HHS also staged personnel from the National Disaster Medical System and an Incident Management Team, along with caches of medical equipment, in Puerto Rico so these assets are available quickly to help authorities in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands respond to medical needs, including the needs of vulnerable populations. HHS has additional personnel available from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps to assist, if needed, in either territory or along the east coast of the continental United States.
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. Residents in affected areas can call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (for Spanish, press 2 or text Hablanos to 66746; from Puerto Rico, text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663) to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
HHS divisions will continue closely monitoring weather conditions arising from Hurricane Dorian and making detailed, practical information available to help the public protect themselves from threats before, during, and after the storm’s landfall. This information includes preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, unsafe food, water and medications, mold, and other health risks.
Guidance and other resources to assist in addressing such health hazards and risks are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online and through CDC’s information service, CDC-INFO. Live agents provide up-to-date science-based health information. CDC-INFO can be reached Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or by submitting a web-based form. Services are available in English and Spanish.
Public health and safety information for Hurricane Dorian can be found on the HHS emergency website, https://www.phe.gov/dorian.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Public service announcements in multiple formats and languages are available for download for broadcast or website use and provide tips on protecting health and safety before, during and immediately after hurricanes.