HHS Deploys Public Health Service Officers to Hawaii
The Behavioral Health Team will Provide Support Services to Maui Residents
This week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), deployed a Behavioral Health Team, consisting of 25 Public Health Service officers from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, to Hawaii to provide behavioral health support services to individuals impacted by the recent wildfires.
“Tragedies like the Maui wildfires have a profound human impact on communities,” said Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell. “We are committed to doing all we can to assist the people of Hawaii, and we are working with partners on the ground to assess ongoing needs to support recovery efforts.”
The specialized USPHS Commissioned Corps team currently deployed consists of clinical psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and nurse practitioners. Public Health Service officers started their work on Wednesday by assisting the community medical facility in Lahaina with clinical workload. This work includes education, behavioral health assessment, and referral for adults, children, and families. Public Health Service officers will also provide behavioral health services to individuals and families as they return home.
“When natural disasters occur and climate-related hazards are exacerbated by weather, Public Health Services officers are trained and ready to respond to humanitarian missions and public health crises,” said Adm Rachel Levine, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. “Residents of Hawaii deserve to have a safe place to live and to have their land protected. While our officers cannot replace what was lost, they are committed to making this nation a healthier, safer place to live and giving individuals, who are often in their difficult moments, hope for a better tomorrow.”
The USPHS Commissioned Corps team will bolster response efforts from the State of Hawaii, Maui County Government, Lahaina Health Center, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and ASPR.
“The wildfires have left communities devasted,” said Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General. “Survivors are grieving the loss of loved ones and the loss of their homes and community. The mental health impact of such disasters is profound, and I am grateful to the Public Health Service officers for providing much needed counseling and support as individuals and families begin to rebuild. Public Health Service officers routinely provide critical support in the wake of major disasters from hurricanes to tornados to wildfires. I’m thankful for their bravery and dedication to helping those in need.”
The USPHS Commissioned Corps is one of the eight uniformed services and is part of HHS. Public Health Service officers serve throughout the federal government to provide essential health care services to underserved and vulnerable populations, respond to public health emergencies or global emergencies, and lead public health programs and policy development.
Soon after the wildfires, ASPR deployed personnel to Hawaii from the National Disaster Medical System and other public health personnel to address the health impacts of the disaster. The experienced mortuary specialists on the team, along with regional response staff, provided support across the state by assisting with victim identification and respectfully processing human remains.
Last month, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a Public Health Emergency for Hawaii. The declaration gives the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting the emergency health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
You can find more information about HHS’ response to the Maui wildfires at aspr.hhs.gov/HawaiiWildfires.