After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico last week, hospitals and medical services were left in critical condition. Many hospitals were flooded, suffered extensive damage, and were left dependent on diesel generators to keep their most critical patients alive.
Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in decades, and all 3.4 million residents of the US territory are American citizens. As the storm began to pass, many of the island’s residents awoke to an altered reality in which cellular service and internet no longer work. Food is in short supply, the entire island’s electrical grid is down and expected to remain that way for months, and there is a shortage of fuel needed to power vehicles and generators. For many residents, their only option is to evacuate to the US for medical treatment.
“Another hospital wants to transfer two critical patients here because they don’t have electricity. We can’t take them. We have the same problem.”
The challenges of recovery are mounting, especially for hospitals. After the power went down across the island, many hospitals quickly experienced failing back-up generators as well, while others are running critically low on diesel to keep their generators running. Dr. Ivan Gonzalez Cancel, a cardiovascular surgeon and director of the heart transplant program at Centro Cardiovascular, tells Reuters.com, “Another hospital wants to transfer two critical patients here because they don’t have electricity. We can’t take them. We have the same problem.”
Unfortunately, fuel isn’t the only problem. Several hospitals report being “in shambles” with no air conditioning, according to Reuters.com. Healthcare officials have begun ordering residents and patients to leave the island, but with the main airport still crippled by storm damage, orders to leave aren’t a simple matter.
Officials expect hospital situations to worsen before they improve. Centro Medico, the largest public hospital on the island, is attempting to set up makeshift hospital units with help from disaster medical assistance teams from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The devastation hospitals are experiencing is similar to the catastrophes of Katrina and Harvey, but Puerto Rico’s remoteness and lack of communications makes the challenges of recovery all the more difficult. Everything must come by boat or air, causing a growing humanitarian crisis. Officials expect it will take months to get the island back on its feet.
To learn more about the sustained damages in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, visit here.