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May 1, 2020

 Just before the CIVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the world, Innovation Unleashed had the opportunity to sit down with Kristen Finne, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, emPOWER Program in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. At that time, we were not yet talking about this specific disease outbreak but we were talking about Kristen’s work as one of the dedicated public servants who work around the clock to ensure that, for example, our health care system can respond to a sudden tidal wave of need.  Preparing for how such events might impact the old, frail, and disabled communities.  She is one of the people that we rely on in an emergency, but who we hope we never need.

The relevancy of what was discussed with Kristen, on that day, has certainly taken on new meaning and significance for all of us as we are sheltered at home deciding about the right timing for returning to work and life with COVID-19 as part of our new normal.

Health officials, health care providers, emergency managers, and first responders have always worried that they did not have access to enough accurate information that could help them respond to the needs of at-risk populations in their communities. So, just a few years ago in the US the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response was established by the Federal Government to make sure we were ready.  The emPOWER Program was launched to get the data to the right people at the right time.  And we are talking about a lot of data and the skills to understand what it means before and after a disaster.  Public health stakeholders can now use the program’s national, data-driven tools to support targeted emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation activities for more than 4.1 million at-risk Medicare beneficiaries.

This kind of massive data mining and essential information delivery does not just happen. The need was urgent for a long time before the innovations necessary to respond effectively. What were the challenges in gathering the information?  How did politics impact the data science?  Where were the biggest gaps in knowledge?  What can be learned from the barriers to progress to speed responses in the future?   One of the best ways to get answers to those and other compelling questions would be to go right to the top. 

In this episode, Kristen describes how she spends her days assessing disaster-induced stress on the health care system and develops interventions to mitigate health system surge and adverse health outcomes for at-risk populations. Kristen leverages federal health and innovation technologies to provide Medicare data, maps, tools, training and products to inform and support federal-to-community level emergency preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation activities for electricity and healthcare dependent beneficiaries that live independently and may be adversely impacted by a disaster.