Hurricanes on the Hill: Our Meetings with Policymakers

Hurricanes on the Hill: Our Meetings with Policymakers

December 19, 2017

Few policymakers deny that healthcare is important during emergencies and disasters, but it’s become a hot-button issue on many Capitol Hill agendas after this year’s devastating hurricane season. Over the past few weeks and months, Healthcare Ready was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with policymakers across key Congressional Committees to discuss this year’s hurricane season, reflect on key lessons-learned, and talk about the importance of emergency and disaster preparedness and relief for years to come.

Our conversations with policymakers focused primarily on the role of government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector during responses to emergencies and disasters. The goal of our discussions was to raise awareness of the key challenges our healthcare system faces when a hurricane, wildfire or other disaster occurs.

Leveraging our unique perspective and 10 years of experience as the go-between for public and private organizations, we discussed the capabilities and scope of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response. We also offer in-depth analyses of the strengths and opportunities for growth for partnerships between government agencies and private healthcare supply chain entities, identifying where economies of scale and scope might be leveraged – such as helping move medical products while roads are flooded and supporting patients in shelters and other healthcare facilities.

Our meetings also touched on the three phases of Healthcare Ready’s response: connecting patients to open and operational healthcare facilities, resuming supply chain operations to support the supply and distribution of medicines and supplies, and supporting healthcare facilities’ resumption of key services. We highlighted Healthcare Ready’s capabilities and challenges during each phase, as well as the unique needs of patients before, during and after emergencies and disasters.

A challenge spanning every phase of our response is that the resilience of our healthcare system depends on the preparedness of other sectors. Restoring a healthcare system is made exponentially complicated when supply roads are blocked, water is contaminated and electricity and telecommunications are disabled. 

Another key lesson we discussed was the need to educate patients on health preparedness and response. Patients often are unsure of the medication information, conditions, and what help is available – a challenge exacerbated by patients evacuated and displaced.

It is critical that policymakers in Washington are attuned to the diverse, distinct needs of patients and what our healthcare system can do to support them during emergencies and disasters. Our work does not stop even when the flooding and winds do. That’s why we will remain activated moving into 2018, continuing to respond to the needs of those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the California Wildfires. Where there are patients and communities in need, Healthcare Ready and our partner organizations will be there to offer support and resources.

Nicolette Louissaint, Ph.D.

Dr. Nicolette A. Louissaint is the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready. Prior to this position, Nicolette served as the organization's Director of Programming. Before joining Healthcare Ready Nicolette served as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. During the height of the Ebola Epidemic of 2014, Nicolette served as the Senior Advisor to the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola.