As Hurricane Irma continues to approach the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services is making data available to public health officials in Puerto Rico and Florida about those who are most likely to need life-saving assistance during power outages caused by the storm.

“This data displays the number of Medicare beneficiaries in each potentially impacted area who rely on any of 14 types of life-maintaining and assistive equipment, ranging from oxygen concentrators to electric wheelchairs, as well as data on the number of people who rely on dialysis, oxygen and home health services,” according to an HHS announcement.

With more than 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries nationally reliant on medical and assistive equipment that require electric power, the HHS emPOWER data is meant to enable public health officials to better anticipate, plan for and respond to the needs of these electricity-dependent populations.

HHS, in partnership with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, launched the emPOWER initiative in 2015 which—among other capabilities—provides a publicly available and interactive map that integrates monthly de-identified Medicare data at the U.S. state, territory, county and ZIP code level, with real-time NOAA severe weather tracking services to identify the number of at-risk individuals who may be affected by natural disasters.

Also See: HHS offers GIS-based tool to help with disaster preparedness

However, the HHS emPOWER Map 2.0 does not indicate the exact location of individuals with medical equipment such as ventilators and cardiac devices. Instead, the tool provides aggregate information on the potential scope of the problem during a natural disaster.

For more specific information on the number of people within a ZIP code or county who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, HHS makes emPOWER Emergency Planning De-identified Datasets available to state public health authorities who can share the information with local planners or responders to provide more situational awareness for each type of medical equipment in use within a state, territory, county or ZIP code.

In addition, local public health officials can request an emPOWER Emergency Response Outreach Dataset from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response that includes limited individual-level information through a secure mechanism, such as the addresses of Medicare beneficiaries who use electrically dependent medical equipment. The tool can be used to conduct outreach during a public health emergency requiring life-saving assistance for these individuals.

With Hurricane Irma bearing down on the U.S. territories in the Caribbean, HHS Secretary Tom Price on Wednesday declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The category 5 hurricane—the strongest ever measured in the Atlantic Ocean—also has the potential to unleash massive destruction on Florida, including prolonged and life-threatening power outages. The emPOWER data is meant to aid state and territory officials in preparing for the potential health impacts of Irma.

“We stand ready to support our beneficiaries in the Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance and other CMS programs, throughout this emergency and through the recovery process,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a written statement. “It is vital that we provide needed assistance so that local governments, providers and facilities all have the resources they need to ensure that people affected by the storm have access to care.”

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