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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

HHS Supports Medical Evacuations in Preparation for Hurricane Gustav

August 31, 2008

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced that HHS personnel will assist the states of Louisiana and Texas in evacuating an estimated 900 special medical needs patients today and in providing care for evacuated patients. The assistance is part of HHS’ aid to states as they prepare for the expected landfall of Hurricane Gustav.

“Our thoughts are with those potentially in the path of Hurricane Gustav,” Secretary Leavitt said. “HHS is working closely with the states and rapidly mobilizing medical personnel and necessary resources to be ready to help those impacted by this major storm.”

HHS has activated the National Disaster Medical System, a federally coordinated operation that can assist state and local officials in dealing with major disasters. HHS also is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to provide air evacuation of 500 medical patients in Texas and an estimated 500 by air from Louisiana.

HHS personnel are assisting the state of Mississippi and will assist the state of Alabama to evacuate medical patients by ground to health care facilities within the states. As part of this care, HHS has placed two Federal Medical Stations, each with a 250-bed capacity, setup in Texas and four in Louisiana to provide low-critical care to residents during the emergency. HHS also has caches of medical supplies in place in the Gulf region, with additional caches of medical supplies ready to deploy as necessary.

In preparation for evacuation and for medical care during and post-landfall of Hurricane Gustav, HHS has coordinated with federal agency partners to provide 600 ambulances, 20 air ambulances and 4,000 paratransit seats. Paratransit vehicles are specially equipped to transport people with disabilities.

Patients are moving to health care facilities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and other areas of Texas. In addition, hospitals in Iowa, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky that are in the National Disaster Medical System can receive additional patients if needed.

Approximately 1,100 HHS personnel are in place today, including members of Disaster Medical Assistance Teams which provide emergency medical response. An additional 450 Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers have been deployed by Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Joxel Garcia, an admiral in the Commissioned Corps.

Medical Reserve Corps units in southwestern Alabama have been also been activated. Medical Reserve Corps units in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee are on standby, ready to augment the state and local response to Hurricane Gustav.

Medical Reserve Corps units, which are locally based, organize and utilize volunteers who supplement existing emergency and public health resources. These personnel can assist state and other federal personnel with patient evacuations and medical support for the general population during evacuations. They also can provide medical support after landfall.

Teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will support state officials in tracking potential public health issues, including diseases transmitted by insects such as mosquitoes.

Teams from HHS human services agencies will work with special needs populations. For instance, the Administration on Aging has been facilitating discussions with directors of state agencies that aid the aging, to help coordinate preparation to ensure the needs of the elderly are met. Liaisons from the Indian Health Service are working with state officials and tribes to ensure state requests for assistance are met.

Using a human services case management program, HHS experts will coordinate with states to connect individuals with special needs to social services for which they may be eligible following a disaster, including child care. This pilot program is in addition to FEMA disaster services.

The National Institute of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has reached out to grantee institutions in the Gulf area regarding protecting animals these organizations may house.

The HHS Secretary’s Operations Center, which operates 24 hours a day, remains in constant communication with federal, state and local emergency management operations in the affected states. HHS liaisons are in place in state operations centers and the federal regional coordination centers in the Gulf States.

The HHS Web site homepage is featuring a link to public health and safety information specifically related to hurricanes at www.hhs.gov/hurricane.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.