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Congress Reviews Hurricane Response, Including Impacts to Drug Supply

October 24, 2017

Key officials overseeing the public health response to recent hurricanes provided an update to Congress about response efforts in the affected areas and the ongoing public health risks, as well as steps federal agencies are taking to safeguard access to critical drugs and medical devices.

The hearing before the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee—Examining HHS’s Public Health Preparedness for and Response to the 2017 Hurricane Season—highlighted the unprecedented impact of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Dr. Robert Kadlec, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), testified to HHS’s three-prong hurricane response strategy, “save lives, stabilize the health care system, then restore services.”

In anticipation of the hurricanes, ASPR activated the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS)—a federally coordinated health care response system in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs—deploying more than 2,500 personnel and hundreds of other federal employees. During late August, Tom Grace, HAP’s vice president, emergency preparedness, was deployed to support Texas medical operations as an NDMS Federal Disaster Team Commander.

Federal public health response activities have included:

  • Assessing and supporting medical needs
  • Providing public health surveillance
  • Providing health care services through emergency department decompression, hospital augmentation, federal medical stations, and free-standing medical teams
  • Evacuating patients as needed
  • Monitoring pharmaceutical supplies and ensuring blood supply
  • Deploying mental health teams
  • Providing expertise in public health activities such as food safety, potable water, and mosquito control

In testimony during the hearing, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cited that 8 percent of medicines consumed by Americans are manufactured in Puerto Rico, and there are 50 medical device manufacturing facilities on the island. Given the enormous importance of the medical product manufacturing in Puerto Rico—some 30 products are “critical and either manufactured solely or primarily in Puerto Rico”—the FDA is actively engaged in working to mitigate production falloffs in order to forestall product shortages. 

The FDA is working to ease supply chain issues by:

  • Enhancing production and distribution
  • Importing alternative supplies from other approved manufacturing sites and reliable markets, specifically providing an alternative supply of an IV solution product and metronidazole manufactured by Baxter Healthcare Corporation

HAP and the Pennsylvania hospital and health care community have been working with the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) to assess and address shortfalls in the supply chain of sterile saline solution and related products. DOH’s Bureau of Public Health Preparedness is continuing to monitor and share information regarding this shortage, and HAP has been communicating strategies to manage shortfalls with Pennsylvania hospitals through HAP regional preparedness managers.

Please contact Tom Grace, vice president, emergency preparedness, for information about HAP’s emergency preparedness activities, or Laura Stevens Kent, vice president of federal advocacy, for questions regarding federal advocacy of public health issues.

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