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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Building hope while rebuilding health and social services: a year after the historic 2017 hurricanes

Author: Josh Barnes, HHS/ASPR Recovery Director
Published Date: 9/20/2018 3:57:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Observances;

Disaster anniversaries can be difficult emotionally for survivors and responders alike. As the months and years go by, the television cameras and the imagery of destruction often leave the airwaves far earlier than when the effects of the disaster are resolved. As national attention fades, the communities must sustain their momentum with a focused recovery effort, which can be complicated and frustrating.

Disaster anniversaries are also opportunities for noting progress and ultimately…for hope because residents and leaders saw disaster recovery as an opportunity to learn from this disaster and rebuild. Since recovery operations began in November 2017, HHS has deployed over 250 staff to deliver over 86,000 hours of support as subject matter experts. ASPR has worked with its partners in Puerto Rico to establish the first healthcare system baseline readiness assessment of capabilities in hospitals, clinics, long term care, and dialysis facilities, so we are better able to understand current vulnerabilities.

Understanding that major disasters need resources and coordination at the local, regional and federal levels, we worked with our partners to develop seven regional health district planning frameworks to establish regional preparedness networks. With great effort and coordination the healthcare system in Puerto Rico has been restored and has been enhanced with a new emphasis for preparedness, redundancy, and capacities to confront future disasters at the local and regional levels.

In USVI, temporary dialysis units are in place while the centers rebuild. Impacted states and territories worked with local and federal personnel on joint teams to assess long-term recovery needs, conducted train-the-trainer and peer-to-peer workshops to learn from each other, recover faster and prepare for the future.

Over the past year, ASPR worked with health and social service leaders - hospitals, long-term care, dialysis, school leaders, social service providers, plus emergency management and local government - in all the impacted states and territories to help them work through how they will respond together this season and in seasons to come. Our goal was to shorten the distance between resource need and resource provider to support each state and territory in having a more efficient and effective recovery.

The “resource” can come in many forms; sometimes that resource is information about grants that can help fund recovery issues; sometimes that resources is knowledge where we partnered with professionals from across the country to share their experience with those in the thick of their own recovery; lastly, those resources can come in the form of people and money – where experts provide technical assistance and financial assistance is identified to help meet immediate recovery needs. This was a new approach for many of them.

I was once asked, “how long do we have to prepare?” The answer is simple: “until the next one.” Whenever the “next one” arrives, ASPR will be ready to work with its partners to save lives, protect Americans, and help support the health and social services recovery needs of communities impacted by disasters. National Preparedness Month is a great time to learn more about better preparing your organization and community so you recover faster.


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