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October 15, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

Acting Secretary Hargan declares public health emergency in California due to wildfires

Following President Trump’s major disaster declaration for California, Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric D. Hargan today declared a public health emergency in California due to the wildfires devastating the state. The declaration allowed the secretary to issue a waiver under section 1135 of the Social Security Act for the state 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 critical health needs.

“Wildfires burning across more than 200,000 acres and 10 Northern California counties threaten the lives of tens of thousands of people,” said Acting Secretary Hargan. “Today’s public health declaration will ensure that those who rely upon Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage will receive uninterrupted care during this disaster. HHS stands ready to assist California’s medical response to the wildfires should it be needed.“

The public health emergency declaration is effective retroactively to October 8.

HHS deployed four regional emergency coordinators (RECs) for the area to coordinate with state and local emergency response officials. RECs serve as HHS’ primary representatives throughout the country at the regional level and build relationships with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officials and healthcare representatives to plan for effective federal emergency responses and facilitate coordinated response activities with local officials. Two Regional Incident Support Team pharmacists were deployed to the region to provide technical support if the state requests the activation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ambulance contract to support the transport of a large number of patients.

Staff from HHS’ National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Service also stand ready to provide medical care and public health support if 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 wildfires 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.

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: October 15, 2017

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