The federal government says it will broaden support of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of relief and recovery efforts for the severe damage left in the wake of Hurricane Maria's landfall nearly two weeks ago.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Monday they have provided broad support to help individuals get needed access to healthcare. President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico today.
“At the direction of President Trump, CMS is doing everything within its power to provide assistance and relief to those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said Seema Verma, CMS administrator, in the announcement. “We are coordinating with federal and local officials to make sure that our beneficiaries, many of whom are some of America’s most vulnerable citizens, have access to the healthcare they need. Our hearts and thoughts are with those who have suffered. We are driven by a passion for our work and won’t stop until those that need access to care are taken care of.”
Among the actions CMS has taken are temporary regulatory waivers, special enrollment periods for victims of the hurricane, a provider hotline to help healthcare providers receive temporary Medicare billing privileges and help evacuated dialysis patients get access to care.
The government has been under fire for not responding quickly enough to the needs of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, compared with the response to the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Puerto Rico was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, and much of the island is still without power, fuel, clean drinking water and food. 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,
HHS announced it had implemented a three-tiered strategy for relief efforts. The strategy involves deploying medical teams with equipment and supplies to provide care at a San Juan emergency and trauma center; dispatching medical teams and setting up temporary medical sites in addition to five hospitals, and assigning a liaison to all open hospitals in order to get information about supply and fuel needs.
Furthermore, HHS says a Department of Defense hospital ship is on its way to Puerto Rico to provide medical care if needed.
Meanwhile, healthcare providers in the United States are also sending help. Kaiser Permanente has donated $1 million to the CDC Foundation to help with hurricane relief efforts, and Newsday reports that Northwell Health, Stony Brook University and the Medical Society of the State of New York are also sending medical aid to Puerto Rico
Fourteen of Puerto Rico's hospitals are now on grid power, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Healthline reports that San Jorge Children’s Hospital, which was connected to the grid on Friday night, is still using a diesel generator because of power failure on Saturday.
“The system is fragile and they are trying to stabilize the system,” San Jorge Children’s Hospital administrator Domingo Cruz Vivaldi told the publication. Meanwhile, public health experts worry about the next wave of patients who become sick due to lack of clean water and food. Vivaldi said the hospital has seen many cases of gastroenteritis and food poisoning and physicians are concerned about likely cases of dehydration, the mosquito-borne dengue virus and waterborne diseases.