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What Happens Next? Federal, State & Local Partners Work Together to Identify and Address Public Health and Social Services Needs in Texas following Hurricane Harvey

Author: CDR Betty Hastings,Texas Federal Health and Social Services Recovery Field Coordinator, Office of Emergency Management, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 12/26/2017 12:27:00 PM
Category: Response & Recovery;

The response to Hurricane Harvey was rapid and robust. In the days and weeks after the storm, over 1,000 public health and medical responders deployed to protect residents’ health and save lives. HHS worked alongside state agencies, disaster relief organizations and other federal partners as part of the response.

But what happens now?  How can communities across Texas recover?

To answer these questions, state and local health and human services officials needed more information and a better understanding of the health and social services needs created in the wake of the storm. In general terms, state and federal government staffs knew that the damage had been extensive, impacting about 60 counties and damaging more than 200,000 homes, plus businesses and schools. Yet they didn’t have enough information to focus recovery efforts, prioritize recovery activities, or target resources so they could be used effectively.

In Texas, recovery experts from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) offered state officials a new approach: assistance with a health and social services landscape assessment. The assessment is used to help state and local officials better understand the impact the storm had on health and social services; identify the recovery resources that are available at the local, state and federal levels; and outline long-term recovery actions.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott understood that recovery is more than repairing roads and transportation services, more than rebuilding homes and businesses and removing debris. Beyond the “sticks and bricks” of recovery, you need to look at the health, social services, and environment needs of communities. He quickly requested federal assistance, activating the National Disaster Recovery Framework that includes the Health and Social Services Recovery Support Function (HSS RSF).

Between October 24-27, six multi-disciplinary HSS RSF teams – each including environmental, public health, social services, behavioral health, and health care system representatives from HHS, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, as well as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services – visited 13 counties and 112 health and social services programs and schools. These counties and facilities were selected based on triaging information from 20 existing de-identified datasets, including FEMA’s Individual Assistance applications, private insurance claims, social vulnerability indices, floodplain and storm path maps and programmatic data from hospitals, nursing homes, community health clinics, schools, child care facilities, mental health authorities and FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers.

Each site received a recovery needs assessment. During the assessments, team members held informal, recovery-focused discussions with facility staff on disaster recovery challenges and successes. The sites provided a status update on their damages; discussed issues related to their staffing, patients and communities; environmental and safety concerns; and any other primary needs. During the visits, state and federal team members also had an opportunity to distribute important information to help facilities with their recovery efforts, including the quickest way to apply for federal assistance.

Following the site visits, members from all six teams debriefed. Analysts from the HSS RSF Team reviewed the data and within 48 hours issued a report to the state and its recovery partners. Based on the results of the analysis, Texas is implementing five new projects: peer-to-peer recovery training for school administrators, train-the-trainer programs for first responders and a train-the-trainer program in psychological first aid for educators.  The state will also establish a health care systems recovery workgroup and a children and youth recovery task force.

Activating the Recovery Framework also helped state officials establish relationships with key federal partners from each HSS RSF team. These relationships may prove invaluable when trying to navigate and access federal assets during disaster recovery. In turn, the federal government also is utilizing the data to improve the resources and services it offers states during the recovery phase.

If you aren’t familiar with the federal government’s Health and Social Service Recovery Support Function and what it can do for your state, check it out. State, local, territorial, or tribal officials with questions can reach out to the ASPR Recovery Team.


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