Nine days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, hospitals continue to struggle to care for an influx of patients, many of whom are in critical condition because they've either been waiting too long for treatment or didn’t have gas to drive to the hospitals.
Thirty-three of Puerto Rico’s hospitals are now functioning, The Washington Post reports but must rely on trucks to provide diesel fuel for generators. This week, the San Jorge Children’s Hospital in Santurce lost power for several hours after running out of the fuel and had to transfer or discharge approximately 45 patients.
“Nothing can function without power,” Domingo Cruz, the hospital administrator, told the publication. “Outside right now, we have a tank that holds 4,000 gallons of diesel. The hospital’s two combined building use 1,500 gallons every day.”
Doctors outside of San Juan are frustrated that basic supplies are on the island but aren’t being distributed to shelters or hospitals due to the fuel shortage and blocked roads, CNN reports. Many local doctors are caring for patients with life-threatening conditions in shelters.
And hospitals that have managed to open are often overcrowded with patients, many of whom need treatment for dengue, a mosquito-borne virus, as well as herpes, asthma and conjunctivitis, according to the CNN piece. And the situation is critical for hospitals who rely on the generators to treat dialysis patients.
Feds respond, but more action is needed
The White House administration has said the relief efforts are going well, has sent additional medical personnel to help, and has waived some regulations for critical access hospitals and skilled nursing facilities so they can treat patients, but many have criticized the government for not acting quickly to address the crisis.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said the situation is growing worse, according to a Yahoo article. “This is a story of devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food or water,” she said. “If I could scream it a lot more louder: It is not a good news story when people are dying when they don’t have dialysis, when their generators aren’t working and their oxygen isn’t providing for them. Where is there good news here?”
Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard Neal, D-Mass., expressed growing concern over reports that thousands of dialysis patients in Puerto Rico are not receiving the medical care they need.
“In this day and age, no American should ever die of a manageable medical condition. Yet this appears to be the situation facing kidney disease patients in Puerto Rico. Those in need of dialysis are in dire condition due to Puerto Rico’s lack of needed fuel and supplies to dialyze those with kidney disease. More than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, needed medical supplies and fuel have not been delivered, resulting in the death of kidney patients; these deaths were preventable and the failure to get needed help to the island is inexcusable,” he said in the statement.
Neal called on the Trump administration and Congress to get urgently needed fuel and supplies to the island, and if they are unable to do so quickly, they must evacuate the patients in the most critical condition.
Kaiser Permanente donates $1 million to relief efforts
Kaiser Permanente said it has donated $1 million to the CDC Foundation to help with hurricane relief efforts. “People are struggling,” said Bechara Choucair, M.D., senior vice president and chief community health officer for Kaiser Permanente. “They face a dangerous lack of water, food and power. If not addressed promptly, these are the conditions that create public health crises. It is vital to offer these communities support as they take their first steps on a long road to recovery.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Virgin Islands is also struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Governor Kenneth Mapp told PBS Newshour that the islands are working with Congress on getting hospitals rebuilt. Right now medical personnel are working out of mobile hospitals and evacuating patients who need inpatient care.