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September 19, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

Secretary Price declares public health emergency in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria

HHS readies personnel for response

Following President Trump’s emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., today declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Maria approaches 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.

“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,” said Secretary Price, M.D. “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 September 16 for the U.S. Virgin Islands and to September 17 for Puerto Rico.

HHS is making preparations in advance to support Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in responding to Hurricane Maria. HHS 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.

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 trained crisis counselor.

The Food and Drug Administration is actively sharing important information on food, medicine, and device safety in English and Spanish.

The Health Resources and Services Administration is monitoring twenty health center grantees, that operate more than 90 service delivery sites, where more than 350,000 patients in Puerto Rico received care in 2016.

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.

HHS is committed to meeting the medical and public health needs of communities across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands impacted by Hurricane Maria in the immediate aftermath of the storm and as affected areas recover. 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

Critical updates will also be available at:

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: September 19, 2017

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