Following President Biden’s lead in declaring an emergency for the states of Louisiana and Mississippi due to Hurricane Ida, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra today declared public health emergencies for both states. The declarations, along with waivers Secretary Becerra authorized under the Social Security Act, give the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs in disasters.
“Hurricane Ida made landfall as an extremely dangerous storm and is carving a path of destruction that poses a significant threat to health and safety,” Secretary Becerra said. “These declarations and waivers help ensure that some of the most vulnerable residents of Louisiana and Mississippi – beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid –have continuous access to the care they need in the aftermath this storm. We stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support to help impacted communities respond and recover.”
In declaring the public health emergency and authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Becerra acted within his authority under the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to August 26, 2021, for the state of Louisiana and retroactive to August 28, 2021, for the state of Mississippi.
HHS also staged an incident management team in Dallas to provide post-storm coordination of federal health and medical support. Teams from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the National Disaster Medical System who were responding to the COVID-19 surge in Louisiana and other Gulf states stand ready to pivot support the Hurricane Ida response. These medical professionals will be available quickly to help health authorities and healthcare facilities respond to medical needs.
To help meet the needs of vulnerable populations, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and CMS are collaborating with state health authorities to provide data that the health departments can use to assist Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, such as oxygen concentrators or wheelchairs, and home health services.
CMS also activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response Program to monitor dialysis access and needs of these facilities in the aftermath of the hurricane. 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 has a Disaster Distress Helpline available. 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 or text 1-800-985-5990 (for Spanish, press 2) to connect with a trained crisis counselor. Callers can connect in more than 100 other languages via third-party interpretation services by indicating their preferred language to the responding counselor. A videophone option for deaf or hard-of-hearing American Sign Language users is also available by dialing the helpline from a videophone-enabled device or accessing the "ASL Now" link at DisasterDistress.samhsa.gov.
During a public health emergency, the HHS Secretary may waive sanctions and penalties against a covered hospital that does not comply with certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule in the emergency area and for the emergency period identified in the public health emergency declaration; to hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and for up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol. The HHS Office for Civil Rights offers more information on HIPAA during emergency response.
Recent natural disasters have demonstrated the importance of ensuring accessibility to health and human services for everyone living in the United States, including individuals in need of interpretation and translation services. To help first responders provide on-the-ground language assistance and communicate effectively during disasters and in accordance with federal civil rights laws, the HHS Office for Civil Rights offers a plain language checklist, including recommendations, specific action steps, resources, and tips such as to how to identify language needs in a disaster-impacted community to effectively utilizing interpreters. Additional information is available on the HHS OCR website.
Each HHS division will be working with state counterparts to determine the hurricane’s effects on public health, medical, and human services. For example, the Food and Drug Administration will be working with pharmaceutical firms in the path of the storm to determine the scope of the impact, and the National Institutes of Health will assist grantee institutions affected by the hurricane.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing technical assistance on protecting shelter residents from COVID-19. CDC and other HHS divisions are making detailed, practical information available to help the public protect themselves from threats before, during, and after the storm. This information includes preventing carbon monoxide poisoning and other power outage safety risks; avoiding driving or walking through flood water; ensuring safe food, water and medications; and addressing mold and other health risks.
Public health and safety information for Hurricane Ida can be found on the HHS emergency website, phe.gov.
NOTE TO EDITORS AND PRODUCERS: 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.