Building on an emergency declaration from President Donald Trump, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency in Oregon due to ongoing wildfires that have killed at least eight people and burned approximately 1 million acres.
The emergency declaration grants healthcare providers and suppliers more flexibility to meet the needs of Medicare and Medicaid users affected by the fires. Federal emergency aid is also being offered to bolster state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in affected areas.
At particular risk during the fires are those with asthma and other lung conditions, as a result of degrading air quality and widespread smoke, HHS warned. This, in turn, could strain a healthcare system already struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. In many areas, the air quality is so bad that even healthy people can experience health problems.
“We are working closely with Oregon health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to support their efforts to save lives and protect health during these dangerous wildfires,” Azar said.
HHS has dispatched an Incident Management Team to Oregon and regional emergency coordinators to its emergency operations centers to bolster coordination in the region. The National Disaster Medical System has also been activated to provide state officials and Urban Search and Rescue Teams with technical assistance. Further, the emPOWER Program is now providing information on the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity dependent medical equipment and specific healthcare services as a means of planning for and responding to their needs in impacted areas.
All actions taken by the HHS have been established retroactive to Sept. 8, 2020.