Two weeks af­ter Maria, doc­tors in Puerto Rico only now dis­cov­er­ing prob­lems in re­mote towns

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD -

JAYUYA, Puerto Rico— Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria’s land­slides and flood­ing fur­ther iso­lated this moun­tain town, a vol­un­teer doc­tor rushed to treat di­a­betic Brunilda Sovi­laro, found on the floor of her home, cov­ered in in­sects, un­able to walk, dis­ori­ented and re­fus­ing to leave.

“You are sick. You are very hot,” Dr. Jorge Lopez of Or­lando told the 50- year- old woman. “Your sugar needs to be con­trolled. You have chest pain. It could be a prob­lem with your heart. You need to go to the hos­pi­tal.”

Even­tu­ally, the Puerto Rico na­tive who re­turned to the is­land from Florida to vol­un­teer per­suaded Sovi­laro to board an am­bu­lance to the nearby hos­pi­tal.

“That lady was go­ing to die if left there like that,” said Lopez, who also vol­un­teered af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in Gulf­port, Miss.,

where he said the land­scape was much less of a chal­lenge.

Two weeks af­ter Maria struck Puerto Rico, hos­pi­tals are still strug­gling, and many like the one in Jayuya are with­out elec­tric­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, re­liant on gen­er­a­tors and run­ning short on vi­tal med­i­ca­tions. As of Fri­day, 8,349 dis­placed peo­ple were still in 132 shel­ters.

Of­fi­cials are wor­ried about pub­lic health risks from the frayed med­i­cal safety net on the is­land of 3.5 mil­lion, and are try­ing to ad­dress hos­pi­tals’ prob­lems be­fore they get worse.

Sev­eral Democrats in Congress spoke out this past week in Wash­ing­ton, call­ing on the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to sup­ply trans­porta­tion to bring the ill, el­derly and frail to the main­land.

“The real­ity of Puerto Rico doesn’t al­low for these vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, sick peo­ple, to stay in Puerto Rico and get the treat­ment that they need,” said Rep. Ny­dia M. Ve­lazquez, D- N. Y., call­ing the sit­u­a­tion a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­sello said shoring up hos­pi­tals in moun­tain towns like Jayuya is a pri­or­ity be­cause they “present po­ten­tial fu­ture challenges, pub­lic health emer­gen­cies.”

Ros­sello noted that the death toll of the hur­ri­cane had risen to 34, in­clud­ing 15 deaths in­di­rectly caused af­ter the storm. Lo­cal of­fi­cials have said peo­ple died af­ter the storm be­cause of a lack of oxy­gen tanks, elec­tric­ity to fuel life sup­port and other prob­lems.

Ros­sello said of­fi­cials were also con­cerned about disease out­breaks, and have al­ready seen some that were “lo­cal­ized,” in­clud­ing sev­eral cases of con­junc­tivi­tis at a shel­ter in the south­ern city of Ponce. Ros­sello said fed­eral med­i­cal dis­as­ter man­age­ment teams had been mo­bi­lized in Ponce “so we can con­trol it,” and that the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion sent staff to check for the spread of mos­quito- borne ill­nesses.

Ros­sello said his goal in shoring up hos­pi­tals ahead of out­breaks was “for us to be able to an­tic­i­pate rather than just re­act.”

He said Fri­day that 25 of 68 hos­pi­tals had power, and more were ex­pected to be con­nected soon. The gov­ern­ment sup­plied fuel to 11 hos­pi­tals and more was de­liv­ered Fri­day, he said.

On Fri­day, the U. S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices ac­ti­vated its emer­gency drug as­sis­tance pro­gram in Puerto Rico that cov­ers the cost of pre­scrip­tions, med­i­cal sup­plies, equip­ment and vac­cines af­ter a dis­as­ter. It wasn’t clear how soon that could help peo­ple in the is­land’s in­te­rior.

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