Why Hurricane Maria matters for healthcare

Why Hurricane Maria matters for healthcare

September 29, 2017

Natural disasters like the hurricanes that we have seen in the past month make it difficult for individuals to go about their normal lives, however what is especially concerning to us at Healthcare Ready is the havoc that has been wrecked on healthcare systems in these regions and the inevitable impact on patients. Since Hurricane Maria hit the hardest in Puerto Rico and the USVI, we have seen incredible infrastructure challenges, leading to logistical barriers to transportation of much needed food, water, fuel, and medical supplies to the devastated islands.

The situation in Puerto Rico specifically is concerning because of the issues that we are seeing with access to healthcare, health supplies and prescriptions. In the face of crumbling infrastructure, there is no rapid fix. Hospitals on the island have reported only having enough medical supplies for a few more days and many don’t have running water. Additionally electricity is a major concern, few hospitals have generator power but most have no power at all. This is a major issue because almost everything including methods of contact to health care providers/ hospitals, to access to health records, to running lifesaving medical machines require electricity. The issues with electricity, water and supplies make it more difficult to catch patients who may be falling through the gaps.

The challenges with providing supplies to the island range from supply chain coordination to air and ground transportation issues. San Juan airport and other ports to the island have reopened and are operating within the curfew. Once supplies land on the island, the next barrier to getting the supplies to the people who need them is a shortage of vehicles and fuel for the vehicles to transport supplies from the airport- the ever complicated last mile. News reports show that about 10,000 shipping containers full of supplies are stuck at the airport unable to be transported on the ground. As of yesterday, the Trump administration has waived the Jones Act for the next 10 days, allowing for more foreign-vessels to ship food and supplies to provide aid to Puerto Rico. While this will help with transportation to the island, we expect to still face significant last mile barriers in getting the supplies to those who need it most.

When it comes to Puerto Rico and other island nations we must be aware of the infrastructure hurdles that we need to clear in order to successfully respond to the natural disasters.

Sarah Baker, MPP

Sarah Baker is the Programs Manager at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she leads the policy development, research, and programmatic efforts to the organization's preparedness initiatives. Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises. Sarah received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.