September 16, 2020
HHS Secretary Azar Declares Public Health Emergency in Oregon Due to Wildfires
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in Oregon due to wildfires, following President Trump's emergency declaration for the state. The public health emergency declaration and related waiver determination give healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting the health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries affected by the wildfires.
"We are working closely with Oregon health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to support their efforts to save lives and protect health during these dangerous wildfires," Secretary Alex Azar said. "With this declaration and waiver, the Trump Administration is helping to ensure that Oregonians who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need during this disaster and as communities recover."
Air quality and extensive smoke produced by the wildfires can present a significant health threat for people with asthma and other lung conditions and can increase demands on the healthcare system, a particular concern as healthcare providers respond to COVID-19 cases in the state. The air quality index in many areas has been reported at or above 300 which can cause health problems even among otherwise healthy people.
HHS has deployed an Incident Management Team (IMT) to Oregon and regional emergency coordinators (RECs) to the state's emergency operations centers. These federal personnel coordinate with state and local health authorities and emergency response officials. The IMT also manages any federal public health and medical personnel and equipment deployed in response to the state's request for assistance.
HHS also activated the National Disaster Medical System, including members from a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team to provide technical assistance to state officials and Urban Search and Rescue Teams and specialists from the NDMS Victim Information Center Team.
Data and tools available through the HHS emPOWER Program, a partnership between ASPR and CMS, is supporting Oregon counties in this emergency response. The program provides valuable information on the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity dependent medical equipment and certain healthcare services, including dialysis and home oxygen, to help anticipate, plan for, and respond to, the needs of at-risk beneficiaries in potentially impacted areas. Oregon is one of the first five states in the nation to work with ASPR and CMS to expand emPOWER to include Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiary data as well.
In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Disaster Distress Helpline is available to assist residents in the impacted areas in coping with the stress of the wildfires. 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 in disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 toll free or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
In declaring the public health emergency in Oregon and authorizing flexibilities in serving CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Azar acted pursuant to his authority under the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to Sept. 8, 2020.