Why Puerto Rico is still in danger after the storms have left
Nearly three weeks ago, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, destroying major infrastructure and devastating the island. Although relief efforts continue to pour in, Puerto Rico's citizens and hospitals are in dire need of help. Let's take a closer look at the state of Puerto Rico's health care systems and why they're still in danger even after the storms have left.
Power is in short supply
As of Oct. 10, 85 percent of the island was still without power, according to The New York Times. This puts a significant strain on facilities that are working overtime to meet patient needs, even as the lights and critical machines could fail at a moment's notice. In some cases, hospitals have had to shut down completely because they don't have the diesel fuel necessary to run a generator. In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Ubaldo Santiago, director of emergency services for San Juan hospitals and clinics, said he had to evacuate the Hospital San Francisco in San Juan twice due to generator failures.
Power is required to run critical health care equipment.
Health centers across the island also lack the ability to communicate with staff members. Federal health officials said that less than half of Puerto Rico's medical employees have reported for work following the storm, The New York Times reported. This creates major complications for patients that are trying to get to the nearest health care facility for treatment. In some cases, people could be turned away or processed faster without the proper procedures. Dialysis patients have seen their treatment hours decreased by 25 percent, for example. People are being put in great danger due to the inadequate power supply, impacting those that need intensive medical care, operations and other comprehensive treatment. Getting the power grid back up will not be easy, and it's already creating a major humanitarian crisis as health care professionals struggle to keep up with demand.
"Without the right medications, doctors will struggle to provide care and services."
Drug and supply shortages impact everyone
Lack of fuel and power are a major issue, but medication and supply shortages are also on the rise. The flood waters are contaminated, increasing the chances for bacterial infections. The close confines of shelters also make it easier for germs to spread and people to get sick. Without the right medications, doctors will struggle to provide care and services. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta recalled a woman who had been waiting a week and a half for medical help with a life-threatening infection. Physicians volunteering at the shelter noted that while her situation was getting more complicated, they didn't have anything to give her at the time. Thankfully, U.S.-based aid organization Direct Relief shipped medical supplies to the area to provide doctors with the drugs patients required.
Coordinating supply delivery to the places they're needed is complicated, particularly for medicines that must be kept cool. Vaccines and insulin are often the most common medicines that require refrigeration, but without the right temperature conditions, these treatments can quickly become unviable, Wired contributor Eric Niiler wrote. Without these medicines, those with chronic conditions like diabetes are at risk. Short-term solutions like battery-powered refrigerators and generators have been implemented, but these fixes can't last forever.
The drug shortage in Puerto Rico should also be concerning for everyone on the U.S. mainland as well. According to Forbes, 12 of the top 20 global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have facilities on the island. Puerto Rico manufactures seven of the top 10 drugs sold globally. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already started working with drug and device manufacturers in Puerto Rico to plan for impact on the supply chain and prioritize efforts to address the potential for medical product shortages.
The work isn't over yet
Relief efforts and health care restoration work is just beginning. People are getting sicker as an after effect of being exposed to floodwaters and living without essentials or medications. Wired contributor Adam Rogers noted that this is also the perfect condition for other waterborne and mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, dengue and even cholera to spread. The events in Puerto Rico demonstrate the massive impact that natural events can have on health care operations. As disasters increasingly occur, it's more important than ever for hospitals to have inventory and backup plans to continue treating patients and recover quickly.