Legal Requirements for Addressing the Disaster Public Health and Medical Needs of At-Risk Individuals
Public health and medical professionals need to be aware of a number of different legal requirements when working to address the needs of at-risk individuals in the communities they serve.
The Public Health Service Act
The Public Health Service Act, as amended, requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a National Health Security Strategy that establishes preparedness goals which, among other things, includes “taking into account the public health and medical needs of at-risk individuals" described as children, pregnant women, older adults, individuals with disabilities, or others who may have access or functional needs in the event of a public health emergency, as determined by the Secretary. Examples of statutorily required activities that HHS must follow to address the public health and medical needs of at-risk individuals include:
- Monitoring emerging issues
- Overseeing implementation of preparedness goals
- Assisting federal agencies in preparedness activities
- Providing guidance on preparedness and response strategies and capabilities
- Ensuring the strategic national stockpile addresses the needs of at-risk populations
- Developing curriculum for public health and medical response training
- Disseminating and updating best practices
- Ensuring communication addresses the needs of at-risk populations
- Ensuring coordination to detect emerging public health threats and adverse health outcomes that may affect at-risk individuals
Other Federal Legislation
There are many federal laws and executive orders that describe at-risk populations disproportionately impacted by disasters and public health emergencies, including populations that have historically faced discrimination.