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Rubio, Colleagues Call for Briefing, Report on Efforts to Protect Seniors and the Disabled During Hurricanes

Jun 5, 2018 | Press Releases

Washington D.C.— U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) requested that the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS) provide “a briefing on how the agencies plan to protect our older loved ones and people with disabilities this hurricane season, including hiring appropriate staff, to ensure that the tragedies from last season are never repeated.”
After failures at a Broward County nursing home led to the deaths of eight patients following Hurricane Irma, Rubio sought investigations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Rubio and Nelson also spearheaded legislation to ensure senior citizens’ needs are more thoroughly evaluated during disaster response planning and to give HHS the ability to hire essential medical personnel capable of responding to medical needs in the wake of disasters. Both of these bills were included in the Senate bill’s reauthorization of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA).
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen:
As the 2018 hurricane season is officially underway, we write about your agencies’ efforts to improve hurricane recovery and response efforts.  Following a series of hurricanes that devastated parts of Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are especially interested in any changes made to ensure that our seniors and individuals with disabilities are protected during any potential hurricane or other disaster this season.  It is crucial that we are able to learn from previous storms and modify protocols for future disasters. 
For this reason, last year, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing in which experts testified on how to prevent death and harm from severe weather events, particularly hurricanes, among older adults and individuals with disabilities. The witnesses made recommendations for action in three key areas:

  1. The prioritization of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in power restoration and the deployment of generators;
  2. The use of federal data to help identify people in need of assistance, including: Medicare data that can identify seniors who may rely upon electricity-dependent medical equipment, Department of Housing and Urban Development data that can be used to identify where seniors reside, and data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the location and medical needs of older veterans; and
  3. The importance of including older Americans and people with disabilities at the table in planning, recovery and response efforts.

With respect to the third recommendation, we have learned that neither individuals with disabilities nor their representatives have been included in conversations with FEMA about long-term responses to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Additionally, it has been reported that disability coordinator roles in multiple FEMA regions are vacant and disaster inclusion advisors from Incident Management Assistance Teams are being terminated. It is critical that the views of people with disabilities and seniors be included in disaster recovery conversations. Therefore, we request a detailed report on the organizations and individuals that your agencies have proactively engaged as you prepare for the 2018 hurricane season.
We have taken steps in the Senate to address these recommendations. For example, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently passed legislation that we introduced to establish a task force made up of experts, older Americans and people with disabilities, and their representatives, about disaster planning, recovery and response efforts. This is an important first step, but older Americans and people with disabilities require an all–hands-on-deck commitment to reach and care for them in a time of crisis.
We are adamant about the need to avoid situations like that in Hurricane Harvey, involving seniors sitting in waist deep water while awaiting rescue from an assisted living facility, or the multiple deaths that occurred in a Florida nursing home. Finally, any repeat, no matter how minimal, of the humanitarian crisis that occurred in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria, is altogether unacceptable. We respectfully request a briefing on how the agencies plan to protect our older loved ones and people with disabilities this hurricane season, including hiring appropriate staff, to ensure that the tragedies from last season are never repeated.