Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory, due to damage from Super Typhoon Yutu. The declaration follows President Trump’s emergency declaration for the territory and gives the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.
“We are working closely with territory health authorities, the local hospital and other healthcare facilities to save lives and protect health after this catastrophic storm,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This declaration will help ensure that our fellow Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need.”
Super Typhoon Yutu hit the islands yesterday as a category 5 storm causing widespread damage.
Before the storm, CMS also worked with dialysis centers in the CNMI to encourage early dialysis of patients and activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response Program to monitor dialysis access and needs of these facilities after the typhoon.
HHS moved more than 50 medical and public health personnel along with their caches of medical supplies and equipment into Guam, the closest large territory to the CNMI before the storm; these personnel are ready to respond to medical and public health needs that CNMI officials identify in the storm’s aftermath. Additional personnel are staged or on alert from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
In addition to providing basic medical care, HHS teams can assist Urban Search and Rescue teams in triaging people found, support the health department with disease surveillance, offer behavioral health support for residents and responders, and more. HHS incident managers are working with CNMI officials to determine what federal medical and public health support is needed.
To assist residents in the impacted area in coping with the stress of the disasters, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated the Disaster Distress Helpline. 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 after a disaster. Call 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has guidance available for territory agencies and community organizations to help ensure equal access to emergency services and the appropriate sharing of medical information during emergencies, including how federal civil rights laws apply in an emergency, how HIPAA laws apply in an emergency. OCR also provided a HIPAA Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness Decision Tool.
In declaring the public health emergency, in CNMI and authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Azar acted under his authority in the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to Oct. 24, 2018.
Public health and safety information for Super Typhoon Yutu can be found on the HHS emergency website, https://www.phe.gov/emergency/events/2018-Severe-Storms/Pages/default.aspx.