Supporting your workforce in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian 

October 05, 2022

The scenes of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian are heartbreaking. An estimated 10,000 people have been displaced, and insured losses will be over $60 billion - total damages may exceed $100 billion[1]. Employers have a critical role to play in helping to reduce the impact of this climate disaster on their workforce and to support the recovery. 

If your organization has operations in affected areas, you are likely being inundated with calls from vendors referencing their capabilities. Simply collating those emergency capabilities and benefits all in one place so that the HR field team can communicate with them effectively is a good place to start. Keep in mind that government-designated disaster and emergency zones will receive the bulk of support, and that people outside of those ZIP codes may not have access to the same services but still need some help. In addition, employees who were not directly affected by the hurricane may be called upon to assist family members.

Connect with your vendor partners to understand what their capabilities are and ensure they are prioritizing employees affected by Hurricane Ian.  Here’s a checklist of the key benefits to discuss:

Telemedicine  When in-person care isn’t an option, telemedicine is vital.  Many service providers will offer $0 visits for everyone in the disaster area: customers, employed, or otherwise. Continue to communicate the benefits of telemedicine and how to access it -- even after the immediate crisis has passed. For displaced employees in particular, digital healthcare solutions can serve as a vital connection point with providers.

Medical In a disaster, most insurance carriers suspend typical utilization management processes to make it easier to access care.  Confirm this with your health plan and make sure the information is communicated to your workforce to remove any unnecessary barriers.

Pharmacy benefits In an emergency, typically pharmacy benefit vendors will provide no-questions-asked grace fills and suspend some utilization management processes for medications.  This is critical for those who have lost essential medications that they normally receive through a mail-order plan. 

For future reference: Some companies have created partnerships to enhance the accessibility of prescribed medication, which can be important in the aftermath of a disaster. CVS (UPS Flight Forward), Walgreens (Wing), and Magellan Health (Zipline) for example, all have partnerships aimed at bringing healthcare goods directly to consumers, although each focus on different aspects.

Vision plans Carriers can help expedite the replacement of prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. Check with your vendor and communicate these benefits to employees.

Disability Disability claims may be fast-tracked for those in disaster areas, and the benefit administrator may ask the employer for an exception to waive elimination periods.

EAP Climate disasters have a material impact on the mental health of employees. Some vendors may be willing to extend their services with no additional cost to employees who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible, such as part-time workers. Be sure to communicate with employees about the EAP programs available to them and what the programs can offer.

401(k) hardship withdrawals 401(k) or defined contribution retirement plan hardship withdrawals may be available. Ask your administrator if they can fast-track distributions -- after carefully guiding the member around the federal guidelines and opportunity costs.

Voluntary benefits  Carriers for home, automobile, boat, motorcycle, and pet insurance may offer expedited payment services following a climate disaster or provide the option of in-person adjuster locations, typically in front of home improvement and grocery retailers.

Consider setting up relief funds

This latest climate disaster may serve as a prompt to consider sponsoring an Emergency Relief Fund (ERF), which would also provide support for individual disasters such as fire in the home. ERFs may be viewed as an essential part of an organization’s financial well-being program and -- given that climate disasters are often the hardest on the most vulnerable -- can also support efforts to address the social determinants of health. Employers can manage the process internally or work with external vendors that will administer the funds in an unbiased and formal way.

Finally, it’s likely that other employees will want to help colleagues who have suffered losses in the hurricane. Let them know which organizations are providing assistance and how they can donate, especially if you have an existing platform for matching your employees’ charitable donations.  If you are contributing to larger relief efforts, communicate that to your employees – they will feel better knowing that the organization they work for is helping out.

Nancy Dass, Sander Domaszewicz, Eric Foster, Dorian Smith, and Tracy Watts contributed to this post.

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