Puerto Rico’s healthcare system slowly recovering 6 months after Hurricane Maria

Satellite photo of Hurricane Maria as of Monday morning
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico six months ago, but the island's healthcare infrastructure is still slowly recovering. (National Hurricane Center)

Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico six months ago. Today, 1 in 10 permanent health centers on the island still lack consistent electricity.

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

The good news for Puerto Rico’s healthcare network is that all the island’s health centers have reopened following the devastating category 4 hurricane that hit on Sept. 20, 2017, reports the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. By contrast, a week after the storm only 11 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals had power or fuel. The conditions were bad enough to force the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to evacuate more than 150 dialysis patients and 130 critical care patients from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the U.S. mainland.

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Conditions have slowly improved, though hampered by continued power outages and a shortage of medical personnel, in addition to depressed economic activity due to reductions in tourism. Some officials have blamed a 29% spike in suicide rates year over year on “post-Maria despair,” according to the New York Daily News.

RELATED: Hurricane aftermath: Damage leads to hospital shortage of drug supplies from Puerto Rico

In a video surveying the island’s recovery efforts, Ivonne Rivera-Hernández, interim executive director of HealthproMed in Puerto Rico, described the deterioration of the healthcare system as solo practitioners forced to close down their practices left the island. Hospitals also saw a mass exodus of employees, compromising their capacity to treat inpatients, said Bernard A. Wheatley, CEO of the Schneider Regional Medical Center in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that community health centers are critically important to Puerto Rico’s overall healthcare system, covering both rural and urban areas across the island via 20 federally funded health centers and 93 additional sites. The foundation notes that the health centers still without electricity have had to seek alternative sources of power to get open, some have relied on generators, while one even converted to solar power.

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