Obama Sends His Condolences and FEMA Director to Joplin

By Susan Jones | May 24, 2011 | 6:02 AM EDT

President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon from Dublin, Ireland, on May 23, 2011. The President and Gov. Nixon discussed the deadly tornado that touched down in Joplin, Mo., Sunday night. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Editor’s note: According to the White House Web site, President and Mrs. Obama will take part in an arrival ceremony at Buckingham Palace Tuesday at 7:20 a.m. Washington time. They will then have lunch with Her Majesty the Queen. At the same time, the morning news shows in the U.S. will continue their live coverage of the devastation in Joplin, Mo., which could make for jarring side-by-side images of royal pomp in London and dreadful circumstance in Joplin.)

(CNSNews.com) - President Barack Obama, heading to London for a visit with the British royals, has sent his "deepest condolences" to the people in tornado-devastated Joplin, Mo.

He said he plans to visit the area on Sunday, the day after he returns from Europe, the Associated Press reported.

"I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you," the president said Tuesday in London, the second stop on his four-country, six-day tour of Europe.

"The American people are by your side. We're going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet."

In a statement posted on the White House Web site Monday, the president commended the "heroic efforts" of rescue workers and those who are working to help their friends and neighbors. "At my direction, FEMA is working with the affected areas' state and local officials to support response and recovery efforts, and the federal government stands ready to help our fellow Americans as needed," the statement said.

The White House Web site also features a photo of President Obama calling Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon from Dublin. The president "assured the governor that FEMA will remain in close contact and coordination with state and local officials," the Web site says.

Obama has directed FEMA Director Craig Fugate to go to Missouri to ensure that the state has "all the support it needs."

Also on Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared a public health emergency for Missouri, allowing her to make sure that beneficiaries of the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), continue to receive services in the aftermath of the tornado.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Joplin and the surrounding communities affected by last night’s tornadoes,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We are working closely with our state partners and community organizations to provide the support needed to respond to this disaster and in the ongoing flood recovery in the region.”

The public health emergency, declared under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, allows HHS to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP requirements. If Missouri requests waivers, HHS will then allow health care facilities in the state to relax certain operating rules temporarily so health care services can be delivered.

For example, hospitals that are certified to receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare will be allowed to take more than the statutorily mandated limit of 25 patients; and they will not have to count the expected longer lengths of stay for evacuated patients against the 96-hour average.