Wildfires lead HHS to declare public health emergency in California

Several wildfires in California led HHS Secretary Alex Azar to declare a public health emergency in the state on Nov. 13. The announcement allows CMS providers, suppliers and beneficiaries flexibility to meet emergency needs.

California is dealing with at least two significant wildfires: the Woolsey Fire north of Los Angeles and the Camp Fire in Butte County. The two blazes have claimed at least 80 lives and more than 1,000 people remain missing, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

At least two hospitals and eight other healthcare facilities were evacuated last week, according to HHS.

“We are working closely with state health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to provide whatever they may need to save lives and protect health,” Azar said in a statement. “This declaration will help ensure that Americans who are threatened by these dangerous wildfires and who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have continuous access to the care they need.”

In addition to the public health emergency, a smoke advisory was issued for portions of Los Angeles County. For people with asthma and other lung conditions, smoke can present a significant health threat.

While the Woolsey Fire was mostly contained as of Nov. 19, Camp Fire could continue burning through the end of the month, CNN reported. It is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of the state, according to the news outlet.