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May 9, 2022​​

Contact: 202-821-9446
Twitter: @HHSgov​ 

HHS Secre​tary Becerra declares Public Health Emergency in New Mexico due to wildfires

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra today declared a public health emergency in New Mexico due to wildfires and straight-line winds, following President Biden’s major disaster declaration for the state. The public health emergency declaration and related waiver give the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services beneficiaries and their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.

“We are working closely with health authorities in New Mexico and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities to support their efforts to save lives and protect health during this dangerous wildfire, which has been accelerated over the past month by straight-line winds,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said. “With this declaration and waiver, HHS is helping ensure that citizens of New Mexico who rely on Medicare and Medicaid have continuous access to the care they need during this disaster and as their communities recover.”

Air quality and extensive smoke produced by the wildfires can present a significant health threat for people with asthma and other lung conditions and can increase demands on the healthcare system.

HHS has regional emergency coordinators (R​ECs) working with New Mexico state and local health authorities and emergency response officials. RECs serve as HHS’ primary representatives for emergency response and recovery throughout the country at the regional level and collaborate with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officials and healthcare representatives to plan for public health and medical emergencies.

Staff from HHS’ National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Pu​​blic Health Service Commissioned Corps are prepared to provide medical care and public health support if needed.

Public health authorities in New Mexico are using de-identified data available through the HHS emPOWER Program, a partnership between ASPR and CMS, to support emergency planning and response. The program provides valuable information on the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity-dependent durable medical equipment to help anticipate, plan for, and respond to the needs of at-risk citizens in potentially impacted areas.

In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available to assist residents in the impacted areas in coping with the stress of the wildfires. The Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster. Call or text 800-985-5990 toll free to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

In declaring the public health emergency in New Mexico and authorizing flexibilit​ies for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Becerra acted under his authority in the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to April 5, 2022.

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