- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Data collected on Medicare beneficiaries is helping Texas officials identify the most vulnerable populations affected by evacuations from Tropical Storm Harvey. In Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, 15,149 people rely on electricity-dependent medical devices.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued the state’s Disaster Declaration to 54 counties in the southeast part of the state.

The EmPOWER program collects data on 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries that use electric or battery-powered medical devices and breaks down the number of people using these devices by ZIP code. Texas health officials are able to request more specific details of these patients in order to help in assistance and evacuation of these people.

Past disasters have shown that many people who arrive to emergency departments do so because they have a chronic condition that they are unable to maintain when leaving their homes quickly. Other people who have electricity or battery-powered assisted medical devices also arrive to hospitals as their devices power down, and they need to plug in their device. These include wheelchairs, ventilators, cardiac devices among others.

Health officials are also worried about the need for patients to receive dialysis. They are also working with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to identify which patients on the health care plans are in need of dialysis and what areas can offer services as emergency departments rarely have enough capacity to handle dialysis patients.

For evacuees requiring medical treatment in shelters, the federal government is setting up a federal medical station at the Houston Convention Center, which will have 250 beds where people can receive medical care from doctors and nurses who are called up to serve in times of emergency relief. The medical professionals work under the national disaster medical system, and leave their regular jobs when called to serve in emergency situations and are paid by the federal government.

There are already 550 medical professionals on the ground to assist with medical emergencies related to Hurricane Harvey, emergencies that can include dehydration, infections, worsening chronic conditions. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also made a plea Monday for social workers and mental health professionals to help treat evacuees.

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