Three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, millions of people in Puerto Rico are still without access to food and water. Eighty-three percent lack power. Cell phone service is limited, and many roads are blocked.
The impact on the island’s healthcare system is just as great, with medical care hampered by transportation issues and a 24/7 need for generators. Worries about outbreaks of waterborne diseases abound.
To help provide much-needed medical care for suffering residents, NewYork-Presbyterian deployed a Disaster Response Team to the area on October 12. The group of four physicians and eight nurses is working closely with experts from other area hospitals in an effort coordinated by the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Healthcare Association of New York State, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the State of New York, and the Puerto Rico Department of Health. NewYork-Presbyterian also sent medical supplies and emergency items, donated by patients and employees, to the island. There are also plans to deploy another emergency services medical team to St. Croix, and to provide assistance to other hurricane-stricken areas.
“This team is going to be focused on helping to relieve some of the overburdened hospitals that are really challenged right now,” says Jeffrey Bokser, vice president, Safety, Security & Emergency Services, NewYork-Presbyterian. “There are 69 hospitals in Puerto Rico, and many are overcrowded and operating on generators, the ones that are open.”
Bokser says the Disaster Response Team, led by Dr. Chris Tedeschi, an emergency medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center with extensive experience in disaster management, will also treat walk-ins at the island’s federal medical shelters, “because there are a lot of clinics and doctors’ offices that obviously either closed or no longer exist because they’ve been destroyed. We anticipate those patients are coming and will be treated by our team.”
The team members, all with a background in emergency medicine and some experienced in pediatrics or surgical intensive care, will be housed in a designated responder base camp within the medical shelters or in FEMA housing provided by the Department of Health & Human Services.
“They have been provided with sleeping bags and pillows appropriate for the climate in Puerto Rico and all the gear that they need to survive,” says Bokser. “We’ve given them meals ready to eat, water, and equipment to be self-sufficient.”
In addition, NewYork-Presbyterian has donated $1 million to New York Healthcare’s Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund to assist hospitals, healthcare workers, and their families in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands affected by the recent hurricanes. A trustee on the hospital’s board donated another $1 million.
“The team was incredibly energized,” says Bokser of their Thursday departure. “It was just inspiring to see the passion, the dedication, the excitement to want to help, to want to go and make a difference.” They are “a team that is remarkably flexible and just wants to get down there to start to care for patients.”
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