NHIT Care Campaign Accelerates and Expands Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Capacity to Deliver Population Health in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

NHIT Care Campaign Accelerates and Expands Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Capacity to Deliver Population Health in the Wake of Hurricane Maria

January 22, 2018

The NHIT Care Campaign addresses the urgent need for power, medical supplies, communications, and telemedicine support to conduct emergency medical response, mapping and logistical support in coordination with disaster response operations across Puerto Rico. Healthcare Ready worked with the NHIT Collaborative to donate telecommunications equipment for clinics during the immediate response to Hurricane Maria and continues to work with partners in incorporating health IT into recovery planning.

On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), causing severe, widespread damage to essential infrastructure and leaving the islands’ residents in devastation. Two months after the storm, residents are “continuing to face challenges meeting basic needs, and daily life remain[s] extremely challenging” [1].

Access to care for residents of Puerto Rico and USVI became limited and chaotic in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, with “limited staff, hospitals without power, injuries, and deaths” [1]. The islands’ health care system, under increased demand to provide life-saving care to a surge of patients, struggled under a lack of access to reliable power, clean water, transportation, telecommunications service, and other essential resources. Widespread damage to basic infrastructure has impeded access to medications and treatment, with diabetes patients unable to refrigerate their insulin and dialysis patients unable to receive dialysis treatments due to unreliable power. In addition, Hurricane Maria has had significant negative effects on physical and mental health, and many residents continue to suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety. The increased struggles of daily life without power, an inability to escape sweltering temperatures and mosquitoes, job uncertainly, and grief over the death of a family member or friend are all potential contributing factors [1].

To accelerate and expand the capacity of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in Puerto Rico and USVI in the wake of Hurricane Maria, nonprofit organization National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT), along with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and supporting partners, have launched the NHIT Care Campaign. The NHIT Care Campaign is delivering communications, supply chain management and care coordination services to bring FQHCs back online and enable rapid improvements in care for the islands’ most underserved populations.

As in the rest of the United States, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and affiliated community health centers are a critical part of the overall health care system in Puerto Rico and USVI, serving underserved areas and populations, specifically those who are at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. The 24 FQHCs and affiliated health centers distributed across Puerto Rico and USVI support comprehensive services including preventative health, mental health and substance abuse and transportation and care coordination with hospitals and specialty care services [2] for over 450,000 patients (~11% of the population of Puerto Rico and USVI) and accommodate more than 1.7 million patient visits [3]. FQHCs and associated clinics represent the only healthcare providers in some of the more rural and underserved parts of the islands.

The NHIT Care Campaign, which has received a groundswell of support and pro bono resources from public and private sector organizations, aims to rebuild and enhance HIT and health information exchange (HIE), clinical and community systems of care, and essential health-related infrastructure in Puerto Rico and USVI, with FQHCs as the hub of support received, given their access to the islands’ most vulnerable communities. A three phased approach will be followed, leveraging current federal investments and building upon existing health care architecture and medical provider support.

  1. Response – mobilize, triage, and address immediate needs
  2. Recovery – rapid assessment and strategic planning for the future
  3. Resiliency – strengthen, scale, and develop local healthcare systems capacity

The following have also been identified by the NHIT Care Campaign team as immediate necessary actions.

  • Real-time situational awareness on the ground. Immediate inspection and remediation of health provider sites
  • Rapid connectivity to the internet to enable communication and telemedicine
  • Enhancement of coordination and alignment of federal, local, commercial, and NGO efforts
  • Coordination of healthcare emergency/recovery supply chain
  • Scalable clinical, community, and public health reporting systems in anticipation of regional outbreaks such as Zika
  • HIT needs assessment, infrastructure roadmap, and strategic plan development
  • HIT infrastructure implementation for data interoperability and care coordination

For additional information on the NHIT Care Campaign, please visit http://www.nhitcare.org/.

Sources:

  1. http://files.kff.org/attachment/Issue-Brief-Voices-from-Puerto-Rico-Reflections-Two-Months-After-Maria
  2. https://www.fqhc.org/what-is-an-fqhc/
  3. https://www.kff.org/medicaid/fact-sheet/health-centers-in-puerto-rico-operational-status-after-hurricane-maria/

Luis Belén

Luis Belen is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT Collaborative), having served as a Senior Consultant and provided in depth professional services in education and outreach in states such as CA, FL, GA and TX, with a focus on the engagement of Latino providers in those communities. Luis is responsible for leading stakeholder engagement efforts with the White House, Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS), Capitol Hill, and many public/private/community organizations; most notably he supports national initiatives, convening such programs as the HIMSS Annual Conference, the Spring Summit, various White House briefings, the Wall Street Summit, and Congressional Roundtables to spotlight the needs of the underserved in the United States today. Belen is a Co-Founder of the HIMSS Latino Community, serves on the Morehouse School of Medicine’s (MSM) Trans-disciplinary Advisory Board as well as the Collaborative Center’s Health Information Technology Policy group. Among his many memberships, he is also a member of the Health IT Policy Committee - The Consumer Workgroup. Belen obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University in New York, NY and attended the A Better Chance program in Swarthmore, PA. Belen currently resides in Loudoun County, VA with his wife of 17 years and four children.​