Damage from Hurricane Maria pushes medical services in Puerto Rico to the brink

Satellite photo of Hurricane Maria as of Monday morning
Damage from Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rican hospitals struggling to care for patients. (Photo by the National Hurricane Center)

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, medical services in Puerto Rico are in a precarious position, and for some patients it is safer to evacuate to the U.S. mainland for treatment. 

Many hospitals are flooded, heavily damaged and running solely on gas generators, reports Reuters. For patients at the greatest risk, medical evacuations to the mainland have been the only option for needed treatment. 

The island's electrical grid is down and could remain that way for months, and food and other necessities are in short supply, according to the article. Many hospitals are already low on fuel to stay open, and patients are being shifted between facilities. 

Doctors in Puerto Rico say more intervention is needed, and quickly, according to the article. 

"If this is not taken care of, people are going to start dying," said Juan Carlos Sotomonte, M.D., medical director of the cardiovascular unit at Puerto Rico Medical Center, the largest public hospital on the island. 

RELATED: Confronting the public health aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Maria is the third storm in the span of weeks to batter the U.S. Recovery from the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma continues across the country. 

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price declared a new state of emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will work with local authorities to evacuate dialysis patients and others who need immediate care, the agency announced

Evacuated patients will also be treated at 11 South Carolina hospitals in addition to nearby spots like Florida, reports The State. It's the first time the South Carolina Forestry Commission Incident Management Team has been activated to respond to a natural disaster. 

The team isn't sure how many evacuees will be coming to the region, or what their specific needs will be, so they'll be sent to different hospitals on a case-by-case basis.  

Humanitarian group Project HOPE has also been deployed to Puerto Rico, according to an article from South Florida Caribbean News. The group's team will include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and mental health professionals to address emergency care while the organization assess infrastructure and other logistical needs. 

“The destruction in Puerto Rico is unprecedented and we expect health needs to rise quickly.  Our team has a wide range of medical expertise and is prepared to deliver a range of health services, hygiene promotion and psychosocial support,” said Chris Skopec, executive vice president responsible for global health and disaster response programs.