U.S. grants go to Georgia health centers hit last year by hurricanes

Thirty-two Georgia health centers that lived through the worst of the 2017 hurricanes will receive $9.6 million in federal grants. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the awards Thursday.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria swept through Georgia last year, causing damage, maiming and killing people.

The award was part of $60 million given to health centers nationwide that are funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. The department in a news release said the money “will help ensure continued access to quality primary health care services at community health centers in Georgia affected by the hurricanes.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the grants would help the centers recover and also strengthen their readiness for next time.

Although the hurricanes happened last year, Congress takes a while to allocate money, especially in the hyperpartisan budget years of late. It passed the law including this money in its bipartisan budget this February. The news release said that prior to the arrival of the grants, the centers were given flexibility in use of their federal funds.

According to HHS, the money will be administered partly through the Capital Assistance for Hurricane Response and Recovery Efforts, which “offers capital assistance and support for minor alteration, renovation and equipment costs to assist impacted HRSA-funded health centers providing services in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

The hurricanes caused hundreds of deaths in those areas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. In Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, for example, Irma directly caused seven deaths by drowning in floods and four by tree accident. But it caused 115 indirectly, the CDC found, for example by stress due to the hurricane, emergency services being disrupted by the hurricane, or electricity outages cutting off oxygen.