Center for American Progress

Addressing Individual Health Needs in a Public Health Disaster
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Addressing Individual Health Needs in a Public Health Disaster

The secretary of HHS should be responsible for meeting the health care needs of individuals that arise from a public health disaster.

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The worst-case scenario is that over time surveillance data collected in a variety of ways show that individuals have suffered lasting damage to their health from public health disasters. In these cases the response system needs to identify these problems as quickly as possible with minimal arguments over causes, and then make sure victims get the care and treatment they need. It is imperative that the system is able to cope with the fact that affected individuals may no longer be living in the same geographical areas, and that those who are already sick with chronic illnesses or who are at increased risk of chronic illness because of risk factors such as smoking may be most affected.

Examples of such programs already operating include the WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, which is overseen by NIOSH and funded by congressional appropriations. It provides free screening, monitoring, treatment, and support for those affected by the World Trade Tower collapse through several programs targeted to first responders and others whose health was affected. NIOSH also operates the World Trade Center Health Registry described above.

The secretary of HHS should be responsible for meeting the health care needs of individuals that arise from a public health disaster. When the secretary provides for this care they should recognize that both physical and mental health care may be needed, that many people will have moved from affected areas, and that treatment needs might come up only after a considerable period of time. In cases where blame can be assigned or has been assumed, the full cost of this treatment should be met by the party or parties responsible.

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