Our Work

Developing Data Tools for Natural Disasters: Implementing Best Practices for Electricity-dependent Medicaid Enrollees (2019-2020)


March 01, 2019 - October 31, 2019

Project Objectives

The Medicaid program provides basic health care services for 2 million low-income and/or disabled people in North Carolina, representing 2 in 5 people in the state. Medicaid beneficiaries are among the hardest hit by hurricanes as low-income individuals are more likely to live in flood-prone areas and have primary dwellings that are less structurally sound, and they are less likely to have flood insurance.

Aside from the direct risks of flooding and winds, many Medicaid beneficiaries depend on medicines that require refrigeration or special medical devices that require electricity. When the power is out for prolonged periods after hurricanes and other natural disasters, these individuals face immediate and severe challenges that can directly threaten health and life. To help address this issue, we need to build new data tools that first responders and emergency personnel can use in real-time to help these individuals during future storms.

Project Description
This project will create emergency preparedness tools and algorithms using Medicaid claims data to identify individuals with electricity-dependent medical equipment or important refrigeration-sensitive medications. Once developed and tested, these algorithms can be run in the days or weeks before a hurricane strikes to identify high-risk patients. The resulting list of high-risk patients can then be securely disclosed to emergency responders and local health departments to prioritize recovery efforts. This work will be conducted in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

These methods and the accompanying documentation and training materials developed by this project will be made available to state leaders so they can be deployed in advance of the next storm. This will enable on-the-ground first responders, public health departments and policy officials to prioritize rescue operations and relief efforts for subsets of especially vulnerable Medicaid beneficiaries in affected areas.

In addition to analyzing quantitative data, the team will interview policy officials, public health officials and emergency response officials in states frequently affected by major hurricane events (NC, FL, NJ) to gather best practices from recent storms to inform development of the analytical model.

Anticipated Outputs
Statistical codes in SAS or R that can be run on Medicaid claims data; operational plan for state agencies to use the statistical code and analysis results; report detailing preliminary results and visualizations; manuscript describing the technical artifacts, best practices and results of the project.

Project Opportunities

Ideally, this project will include 2 to 4 graduate students and 6 to 8 undergraduates.

Graduate students in data science are especially encouraged to apply, as are health professional students, public policy students and students from the Nicholas School.

Undergraduates in a variety of majors/certificates could contribute to and learn from this project, including those in computer science, statistical science, global health, environmental sciences, public policy studies, policy journalism and media studies, among others.

We are particularly interested in students with experience in SAS programming, data visualization and/or mapping, health care claims, government agency operations and disaster preparedness activities. We are also looking for students with succinct, clear, professional writing skills.

This team will also benefit from the perspective of students who have lived or served in disaster-affected regions, as well as any who have had direct experience, professional or personal, with individuals who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment or refrigerated medications.

The project will begin with an orientation to the North Carolina Medicaid program and North Carolina Medicaid claims data. The team will then form sub-teams, such as a technical analysis team and a policy operationalization team, to focus on different aspects of the project. The team will meet weekly for mini-lectures, as well as to share progress, plan next steps and discuss challenges and successes. Sub-teams will work on project tasks between the full team meetings. We will also use tools like Slack, Jira and GitHub to communicate in an agile manner, emulating many modern professional environments that students may eventually experience.

Students will gain experience in the practical application of a variety of skills in project management, university research administration, quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis and policy analysis in the context of state agency operations, including gaining an understanding of the need to balance many competing priorities and the allocation of limited resources.

Graduate and professional students will also gain project management and mentoring experience by taking a leadership role on their sub-teams, with support from Hilary Campbell, Pharm.D, J.D., the overall project manager, and the faculty leaders.

Interested students should apply as soon as possible. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through January 9.

Spring 2019-Fall 2019

Spring 2019: Assign sub-teams; begin Medicaid orientation, claims data orientation and literature review; request institutional approval (IRB process); begin interview subject identification and scheduling; develop interview guide; submit NCDHHS approval; begin on-site interviews, develop analysis plan/table shell drafting, begin initial planning for de-identified assessment and visualization; develop methods and analytical plan; test statistical analysis methods and algorithm; hold interim review with NCDHHS
Summer 2019: Begin manuscript development; develop training documentation and methods companion guide (there will be select opportunities for student work over the summer; not required for all team members)
Fall 2019: Conduct final interviews; produce interview summary and findings; iterate on analysis plan/table shells; iterate on visualization plan; run final analyses, troubleshoot and use results to create draft visualizations; create outline operationalization plan using interview findings and team analysis experience; interim review with NCDHHS; continue iteration on technical analysis and operationalization plan; review all written documents by full team; produce final deliverables; present to NCDHHS

Independent study credit available for spring and fall semesters.

Project Application Process

Applications for this project closed on January 9, 2019. Please see the Bass Connections website for additional information.

Project Application Deadline


Project Placements Available


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