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Helping Puerto Rico Get to Normal After Hurricane María by Jamie Muñez, RHEC II Emerging Professional

posted Aug 28, 2018, 9:18 AM by daniel yoo   [ updated Aug 28, 2018, 9:32 AM ]
It has been 10 months since Hurricane Maria touched down; since then, the people of Puerto Rico have been in an uphill battle getting back to normalcy. They are now one month into the 2018 hurricane season, and many fear that, if another hurricane hits, they never will be able to recover. Recently, they have been dealing with the lack of physicians. On top of that, the doctors who remain on the island lack funds and resources to help the people.

The low number of physicians was an issue for the island before Hurricane María hit, mainly because the hospitals’ budgets did not allow them to offer reasonable pay to their staff. Many doctors had to make a choice to stay on the island and work without much resources, funding, and pay or to move to the states and have access to more not only for their patients but their families as well. According to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Puerto Rico, the number of doctors went from 14,000 to 9,000 from 2006 to 2016. Even though the rate of unemployed people has increased, it is still far below the rate from previous years in all sectors. In June, there were 852,000 employed residents; that is 31,200 less than last year’s June rate, and the continuous drop in employment has created a strain on the island’s economy.

One of the main issues that the Island faces is health care. Although most of the island’s residents are on Medicaid and not private insurance, the funding they receive is approximately one third of the allocation that the 50 states receive. Even though the island gets less than the states, the cost of medication and equipment is the same, and residents contribute to the Medicaid fund.

The Affordable Care Act would have been a way for people to get the care that they need, but Puerto Rico was excluded from the benefits in the program. As of now, Puerto Ricans must work with Programa Mi Salud (Medicaid), most especially children and the elderly. With the high poverty rate, many residents depend on Medicaid, but they do not receive the same benefits from program as those in the 50 states. Whereas a person who needs home care would be covered under the Medicaid program and would get the assistance that they need at home or be placed in an assistance home in the states, in Puerto Rico, they would get access to medicine, but someone close to them would need to care of them. This job would fall under the care of their child or a sibling, and it can be costly and both physically and mentally exhausting.

With power still down for most, people need to find ways to keep necessary medicine fresh through creative means. In cases where patients rely on electricity to stay alive, family members are finding ways to power their homes on their own. This is just one of many issues with which the people are dealing there; suicide rates have risen in the past few months, and people are losing hope that it will get better anytime soon.

The Virgin Islands, also hit by the hurricane, have been able to get back their tourism which has helped their economy. However, because of the lack of power and clean water, Puerto Rico has not been able to resume tourism; this has only hurt their economy even more. Even though they can receive hurricane help from federal programs, because they have not been able to pay their workers, the funding they can receive cannot be disbursed to organizations that could provide relief. Beyond this, the commonwealth is struggling to pay creditors due to decades of corruption and inefficiency.

One way to help is to get volunteers out to distribute clean water and food, as residents have gone months without fresh meat or vegetables, and helping them regrow their stock can help reduce the need to spend money on food from outside sources. They also need doctors back on the island; even temporary outside help will reduce wait times and help get more people the care they need. The island’s financial problem will not be solved anytime soon, but if we step up and help in other areas, then Puerto Ricans can begin to recover and recoup what they have lost.