US Health secretary declares health emergency in Puerto Rico, USVI due to Hurricane Maria
SAN JUAN – Following President Trump’s emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Maria approached the U.S. territories.
The declaration allowed the secretary to issue a waiver under section 1135 of the Social Security Act for these areas to enable the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to take action that gives beneficiaries and their health care providers and suppliers “greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.”
Information on health safety tips during and after the hurricane will be provided by the Office of the Assistance Secretary for Preparedness and Response and will be available at www.phe.gov/emergency.
“Hurricane Maria currently poses a significant threat to the public health and safety of those living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Price says in Tuesday’s release. “In preparation, HHS is mobilizing assets and readying personnel and supplies to help those in the path of the storm. Declaring a public health emergency for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will aid in the department’s response capabilities – particularly as it relates to ensuring that individuals and families in those territories with Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) maintain access to care.”
These actions and flexibilities are effective retroactively to Sept. 16 for the USVI and to Sept. 17 for Puerto Rico.
HHS says it is making preparations in advance to support Puerto Rico and the USVI in responding to the storm. According to the agency, it has more than 120 personnel deployed in Puerto Rico, including staff from National Disaster Medical System personnel, an Incident Response Coordination Team from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and an environmental health team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The experts are ready to provide medical care and public health support as needed after Hurricane Maria makes landfall. Additional medical and public health teams are ready to be called in as needed,” reads the release.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available “to aid people in coping with the behavioral health effects of the storm and help people in impacted areas connect with local behavioral health professionals.” Residents can call 1-800-985-5990 toll free or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a crisis counselor.
The Food and Drug Administration is sharing information on food, medicine and device safety in English and Spanish.
The Health Resources and Services Administration is monitoring 20 health center grantees that operate more than 90 service delivery sites, where more than 350,000 patients in Puerto Rico received care in 2016, according to HHS.
“HHS remains in regular contact with Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands health officials to maintain awareness of the local situation and stands ready to augment its support to the territory as the situation unfolds,” the announcement concludes.