May 7, 2018

Lessons from Katrina and the 2017 California Fires: The Sequoia Project Spearheading Platform for Nationwide Health IT Disaster Response

Nonprofit convenes experts to move California Model to national-level solution

(Vienna, VA – May 7, 2018) – When disaster strikes and families are relocated to shelters in their community or even further afield, prescription refills and other healthcare needs become more challenging. The Sequoia Project, in support of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), announced today the development of a nationwide deployment plan for the health IT disaster response platform known as the Patient Unified Lookup System for Emergencies (PULSE). They also formed an advisory council to inform its progress.

Experts from two offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) initially conceived the idea for PULSE following experiences in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Well-meaning physicians and providers flocked to shelters to help, but the shelters could not confirm medical credentials of the volunteers, and the volunteers could not access evacuee health records.

“Disasters and other events are unpredictable and disruptive and place unique demands on public health, private sector healthcare, first responders and other key resources,” said Mariann Yeager, CEO of The Sequoia Project. “People need seamless healthcare, whether for emergency care or just uninterrupted prescription access, when they are displaced by a disaster.”

The PULSE platform was activated in California for the 2017 wildfires, and many area health systems and providers rallied behind the effort. The new PULSE advisory council will leverage these early experiences to guides efforts to deploy PULSE in other states and regions by informing governance, activities and policies on a national-level platform to enable sharing among disaster healthcare volunteers and community providers.

The advisory council is composed of experienced and knowledgeable subject matter experts who bring unique insight from federal and state government, emergency response organizations, health information networks, healthcare provider organizations and clinicians. Representatives appointed to date include:

  • California Association of Health Information Exchanges (CAHIE) – Rim Cothren, Executive Director
  • California Emergency Medical Services Authority (CalEMSA) – Dan Smiley, Chief Deputy Director
  • CMS – Tom Novak, US Department of Health and Human Services Medicaid Interoperability Lead
  • Emergency Physician – Dr. Mark Cohen, fire department and EMS medical director
  • Healthcare Provider Organization – Sean Turner, Senior Director Interoperability and Population Health IT, Dignity Health
  • HHS Intergovernmental and External Affairs – Lee Stevens,  Senior Policy Advisor
  • HHS Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) – Kristen Finne, Senior Program Analyst and emPOWER Program Manager
  • ONC – Rachel Abbey, Public Health Analyst
  • Technical Implementation – Jeremy Wong, director of master data management services, Audacious Inquiry
  • Texas e-Health Alliance (TEHA) – Nora Belcher, Executive Director

“PULSE is a public-private collaborative effort focused on ensuring our cities, counties and states are ready for when the next disaster strikes,” said Yeager. “Disasters and other serious events are inevitable, but how we handle them improves daily, and this effort will help communities take an important step forward toward more effective disaster response.”

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