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September 5, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

Survivor Health and Safety a Federal Family Focus after Hurricane Harvey

Washington, D.C. – More than a week after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, all levels of government remain committed to life saving and safety needs across the affected areas. Priorities remain focused on the health and well-being of survivors as they begin the road to recovery.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the lead federal coordinating agency to coordinate federal support activities of public health, health care facilities and coalitions, environmental health, behavioral health, and essential social service needs. HHS is working closely with the state of Texas as well as other federal, state, local, tribal and voluntary agencies to support local efforts to recover health care, public health, and social services functions in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.

To support health and social services recovery, HHS and its partners will begin recovery impact assessments and will assist the state in finding solutions to meet the needs of impacted communities and survivors. Common areas include persistent environmental health risks, such as mold and safety issues that can emerge in cleaning up debris; healthcare infrastructure needs such as long-term repair of healthcare facilities, clinics, and nursing homes; impacts on children and families, such as repair of child care centers and schools, and behavioral health in coping with personal and economic effects of disasters.

These efforts will build on work underway in the disaster response, including:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to assist hospitals and other healthcare facilities, such as dialysis centers, and FDA regulated businesses, in reopening or in meeting the surge in demand for healthcare and social services.

  • Secretary Tom Price, M.D., declared a public health emergency for Texas to provide flexibility and authority to help those who have been impacted by the storm.
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services temporarily waived or modified certain Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements to provide immediate relief to those affected by the hurricane and flooding.
  • HHS set up temporary care sites at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston and surrounding communities.
  • The more than 1,000 HHS personnel from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service deployed with more than 460,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies to provide medical care for Texans in affected areas.
  • More than 1,000 local members of the HHS-sponsored Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Program are volunteering in shelters, evacuation centers, call centers, and donation sites.
  • HHS activated its Disaster Distress Helpline, a toll-free call center, available 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990. Since August 26, more than 1,100 people in Texas have called the helpline for assistance in coping with the behavioral health effects of the storm and to connect with local behavioral health professionals.
  • Staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are widely distributing public health information related to carbon monoxide poisoning, flood water safety, generator safety, mental health, chemical hazards, evacuations & shelter safety, food and water safety, pet safety, injury prevention, and power outages. More information can be found at https://emergency.cdc.gov/han/han00406.asp.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing assistance through their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and waiving some regulations to make food more accessible, especially to school children and seniors. The USDA has also made food available to the Salvation Army to prepare and serve 100,000 meals to disaster survivors.

  • In addition, the USDA approved the state of Texas to designate schools not directly impacted by the Hurricane to serve as disaster organizations and shelters so that USDA foods can be used for congregate feeding, providing critical food assistance to those in need. All disaster affected schools are now able to provide meals to all students at no charge and be reimbursed at the free reimbursement rate through September 30.
  • The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS’) Animal Care Program is  supporting animal safety and well-being during disasters which is helping to ensure the safety and well-being of people affected by the disaster. APHIS currently has staff deployed to emergency operations centers in both Texas and Louisiana and has already helped make available 25 tons of pet food to meet needs in affected areas and ensure additional food is available as necessary.

The U.S. Department of Education activated its emergency response contact center and is supporting their K-12 and higher education stakeholders affected by Hurricane Harvey. The Department of Education has made informational resources available to impacted schools and school districts online at rems.ed.gov. Those seeking relief from department-based administrative requirements can contact the department toll-free at 1-844-348-4082 or by email at Har[email protected]

The Environmental Protection Agency is working closely with local, state and federal responders, and is monitoring public water systems, securing waste sites, and supporting emergency response activities throughout the affected region.

  • With many drinking water and wastewater facilities affected by the impacts of Harvey, EPA is providing resources for those seeking information about their drinking water. During an emergency, citizens under a boil water notice should follow the directions of their local water utility. Drinking water emergency response resources can be found at www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/drinking-water-emergency-response.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is helping employers keep their workers safe during cleanup and recovery operations by providing a number of resources.

  • OSHA is actively engaged with the National Response Team and the interagency response to the hurricane and flooding. They are working with FEMA, the EPA, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies to coordinate strategies for the recovery.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs has activated a hotline through its Health Resource Center (HRC) to assist veterans impacted by Hurricane Harvey. HRC assists veterans in updating temporary or permanent addresses or phone numbers; providing facility's operational status; providing information on how to reschedule appointments or receive medical advice; and, offers veterans information on emergency prescription refills and additional emergency resources. The VA has also deployed mobile assets to assist veterans affected by the storm. This includes:

  • Mobile Medical Units providing primary care, mental health, social work and benefits services to Veterans affected by Hurricane Harvey. VA has five units currently located in Houston, Crosby, Silsbee, and Corpus Christi and is open to any veteran and family members.
  • Mobile Vet Centers providing counseling services to veterans and the affected community.
  • Mobile Pharmacies located in the Houston metropolitan area capable of delivering life-saving pharmaceuticals to veterans.
  • Additionally, VA is using its telehealth capabilities with 170 iPads distributed throughout greater Houston and more than 65 staff devoted to current telehealth efforts focused on primary care, mental health and clinical pharmacist support.

For additional information about recovery resources in states affected by Hurricane Harvey, visit www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.


Follow HHS on @HHSgov and HHS Secretary Tom Price on @SecPriceMD. Find HHS emergency response and recovery tips and activities on @PHEgov.

Follow efforts across the federal government with FEMA online at www.fema.gov/blog, www.twitter.com/fema, www.facebook.com/fema and www.youtube.com/fema. Also, follow Administrator Brock Long’s activities at http://www.twitter.com/fema_brock.

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Last revised: September 6, 2017

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