HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra declares public health emergency for Hawaii in response to wildfires

Aug. 14, 2023

On Aug. 11, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a Public Health Emergency (PHE) for the state of Hawaii to address the health impacts of the wildfires. The declaration follows President Biden’s major disaster declaration and gives the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

“We will do all we can to assist Hawaii officials with responding to the health impacts of the wildfires,” said Secretary Becerra. “We are working closely with state and local health authorities, as well as our partners across the federal government, and stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support.”

HHS’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has deployed disaster response personnel from the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) to Hawaii to address the health impacts of the wildfires.

HHS’ ASPR deployed an initial team of 13 responders to support emergency response efforts in Hawaii. Responders include an assessment team from the NDMS Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) and other public health response personnel. The experienced mortuary specialists on the team, along with regional response staff, are providing support across the state. ASPR stands ready to deploy additional personnel as needed.

“The deadly wildfires that have impacted Maui this week have brought untold destruction and loss to the island,” said Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell. “ASPR has deployed highly trained response personnel to Hawaii as part of the combined federal and state response to these fires. We are committed to supporting the people of Hawaii during this difficult time.”

DMORT personnel are working with FEMA, ASPR Regional Emergency Coordinators, state health authorities, and emergency response officials to determine if any additional federal public health and medical resources may be needed to aid in responding to wildfires.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sharing post-wildfire and power outage safety information and is standing by to provide additional public health support if needed.

HHS’ Disaster Distress Helpline, sponsored by HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-985-5990, can provide immediate counseling to anyone affected by the wildfires. Counselors are trained to offer support to people who may be experiencing a range of symptoms. Callers can connect with counselors in over 100 languages; a videophone option is available to support the deaf or hard-of-hearing.

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 August 8, 2023.

Additional information about HHS response to the wildfires can be found at https://aspr.hhs.gov.

HHS has the release.

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