Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra today declared public health emergencies for New York and New Jersey due the damage inflicted by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. 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.
“The significant destruction this storm left in its wake has threatened the health and safety of residents in New York and New Jersey,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell. “With these declarations and waivers, we can help ensure that some of the most vulnerable residents – beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid – have continuous access to the care they need after this storm. We stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support to help these 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 Sept. 1, 2021, for the states of New York and New Jersey.
HHS regional emergency coordinators and recovery specialists are working with health officials in both states to determine any federal public health, medical or social services support the states may need in recovering from the storm.
In addition making support available to New York and New Jersey, an HHS incident management team is providing post-storm coordination of federal health and medical support for states in the Gulf of Mexico impacted by Hurricane Ida. Teams from the National Disaster Medical System are deployed to augment local healthcare professionals providing care in several Louisiana hospitals. HHS also deployed a federal medical station equipment to Louisiana to serve as a temporary medical facility within the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has 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.
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 this 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.
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.