emPOWERing Public Health: City of New Orleans

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November 7, 2017

Addressing the needs of electricity-dependent community members can be challenging for any health department, a fact that can be most striking during a public health emergency. Experiencing this issue first-hand, the City of New Orleans Health Department has been able to address these issues using the tools of the Department of Health and Human Services […]

Tree Down in Wind Damage

Addressing the needs of electricity-dependent community members can be challenging for any health department, a fact that can be most striking during a public health emergency. Experiencing this issue first-hand, the City of New Orleans Health Department has been able to address these issues using the tools of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) emPOWER Initiative, developed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

Located near the Mississippi River Delta with many portions lying below sea-level, New Orleans has experience with water-related natural disasters. Due to continued concerns regarding preparation and response to these events, especially when considering at-risk individuals in the community who live independently in their homes and are dependent on medical equipment that uses electricity, the City of New Orleans Health Department sought solutions that would improve their capabilities. “People were starting to explore ways of how we could identify people ahead of time, or during the emergency, who needed assistance” said Charlotte Parent, the City of New Orleans Health Department’s Director of Health.  While the City of New Orleans developed a Special Needs Registry, there were concerns regarding the ability to keep information accurate and up-to-date.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy in 2013, the city was approached by ASPR to participate in an exercise that would test out the capabilities of a new initiative which would provide information and data that could enhance the city’s preparedness and response capabilities.

The initiative that ASPR introduced to the City of New Orleans Health Department was the HHS emPOWER Initiative. The emPOWER Initiative assists local health departments with their planning and response efforts focused on addressing the needs of at-risk community members living independently within the community. Utilizing Medicare billing data through a partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the tools of the HHS emPOWER Initiative provides local health departments and their partners with the situational awareness to prepare for those individuals who utilize durable medical equipment, dialysis, oxygen tanks, home health care services, and other assistance that requires access to electricity.

Using the capabilities of the HHS emPOWER Initiative, the City of New Orleans Health Department and its partners would conduct an exercise to see if the CMS data provided within the emPOWER Initiative’s tools could be used during an emergency to identify at-risk individuals who would need additional assistance during a response and verify if the information contained within the Special Needs Registry was accurate.

After a great deal of planning and the communication of announcements regarding the exercise to the public, the day of the exercise finally arrived. Working with the City of New Orleans Fire Department, City of New Orleans Police Department, City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, City of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services, and ASPR, the City of New Orleans Health Department and its partners went door-to-door to verify the accuracy of the CMS data that the HHS emPOWER Initiative relies upon and the information contained within the city’s special needs registry.

Of the homes which were successfully contacted, the CMS data accurately identified 89 percent of those at-risk individuals listed as living at the home and 93 percent had the correct medical equipment listed.

“We know that [the special needs registry] only scratches the ‘tip of the iceberg’” said Parent. “We deemed the pilot and the experiment a success.  It allowed us to see many people who would not have normally opted into our special needs registry.”

The City of New Orleans Health Department also used the exercise to talk to the people that they met regarding emergency preparedness, personal preparedness, and provided them with the option of joining the City of New Orleans special needs registry.

The HHS emPOWER Initiative has become another tool that the City of New Orleans Health Department can rely upon to ensure the most effective planning and response activities related to public health emergencies.

Using the HHS emPOWER Initiative, the city has noted that it has become more effective and efficient in planning for all of its community members. For instance, the city has used Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards to identify the mobility of individuals that they have identified so that they send the appropriate equipment to the appropriate locations when evacuations are necessary.

Since the exercise, the health department has noticed the warm reception received by its efforts to ensure the safety of at-risk individuals in an emergency, noting that the city’s special needs registry has grown three times as large since the exercise.  However, while the registry has grown the health department is still fully aware that not all individuals needed special assistance have been identified. As a result, the HHS emPOWER Initiative has been and will continue to be critical for assuring the safety of all at-risk individuals in the community.

Resources

  • emPOWER Map 2.0 (publicly accessible HHS emPOWER Map Tool): https://empowermap.hhs.gov/
  • NACCHO Tool – HHS emPOWER Fact Sheet: NACCHO Publications Site
  • http://www.nacchostories.org/empowering-public-health-broome-county-new-york/
  • http://www.nacchostories.org/empowering-public-health-maricopa-county-arizona/
  • http://www.nacchostories.org/empowering-public-health-fairfax-county-virginia/

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