Press release

Care for Dialysis patients a key focus of Hurricane Maria response efforts in Puerto Rico

Care for Dialysis patients a key focus of Hurricane Maria response efforts in Puerto Rico

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma today released additional details on the agency’s efforts in support of dialysis patients and providers in Puerto Rico. Care for these fragile patients is a top priority as are the agency’s actions to help all of those impacted by the storm. During the past few weeks, CMS has worked to ensure hospitals and other facilities can continue operations by waiving numerous Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements, and has helped individuals and doctors by creating special enrollment opportunities to access healthcare immediately and a hotline for physicians assisting with Hurricane Maria response efforts.

“All of the work we’ve done at the direction of President Trump to help in Puerto Rico has been vital and life-saving for so many residents,” said Administrator Verma. “The dialysis patients and facilities have been a particularly special focus of our staff and partners because of the unique and special needs that their care requires. I’ve been so impressed by the determination of the first responders to ensure every possible step is taken so that these patients have access to the life-saving care they need.”

Prior to and following the storm, CMS has worked with the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) center and major dialysis providers to track the status and location of over 6,000 dialysis patients and coordinate, if necessary, their relocation and evacuation to other locations in Puerto Rico to ensure they have access to care. Over 100 dialysis patients from St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, who had been evacuated to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Irma, were relocated to Miami, Florida, before Hurricane Maria’s impact. This work also included coordinating wrap-around services and continuity of care for beneficiaries in collaboration with other federal agencies and community stakeholders, including diesel fuel providers, water providers, and gasoline, food, and medication suppliers.

When the generator failed at a dialysis facility on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, CMS staff and key stakeholders worked together to arrange helicopter transportation for patients to other facilities. Once patients were cared for, staff pushed to prioritize delivery of a replacement generator to help the Vieques dialysis center remain operational, monitoring the status of the replacement generator and working with staff and stakeholders to make arrangements for the facility’s patients in the interim so that their access to care continued uninterrupted. Given the difficult conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the status of facilities, including power and generator viability, and access to care are being continuously monitored.

CMS has also been working with these partners through our contractors and staff deployed to the island to keep Puerto Rico’s 48 dialysis facilities operating. This includes coordinating closely with the Incident Response Coordination Team (IRCT) and communicating the needs identified in regular conference calls with dialysis providers on the island. The company that provides transportation services for dialysis patients to and from their care was noted by agency staff as a priority to receive fuel. The Puerto Rico Department of Health (DOH) is working alongside federal workers and partners to develop and implement a process for credentialing nurses and technicians from the mainland to relieve dialysis facility staff as necessary and make sure that this workforce has the supplies they need to get to and from work each day.

CMS is continuing its work with all geographic areas impacted by recent hurricanes. There are two CMS Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers embedded within the IRCT in Puerto Rico assisting with coordination of CMS response efforts. CMS continues to coordinate with other agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, and Army Corps of Engineers on a plan to implement temporary hospitals in St. Croix and St. Thomas while the main hospitals are being rebuilt. The agency is providing consultation on dialysis medical needs and equipment to ensure that these resources are available in both the temporary and rebuilt hospitals. CMS will conduct in-depth patient safety surveys to ensure quality of care standards and certification requirements are met as these building plans are being implemented.

We encourage people with federal benefits, their families and providers of healthcare services that have been impacted by hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Maria, and Nate to stay current on all CMS emergency activities by visiting CMS’ emergency webpage (www.cms.gov/emergency).

To read updates regarding HHS activities related to it hurricane response and recovery, visit:  https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/hurricane-response/index.html - Opens in a new window  

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