Florida’s two U.S. senators are pushing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to act quickly in Puerto Rico, ensuring that island does not experience a public health crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
With more than 40 Puerto Ricans already dead due to the hurricane, there are reports of health problems lingering as trash pickups have not been resumed and dead animals in the streets. Around 80 percent of Puerto Ricans are without out power and around 40 percent do not have running water.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan on the matter, calling for “aggressive action to help" Puerto Rico.
“In light of the island’s damaged infrastructure and its residents’ lack of access to power and clean water, it is critical that the island receives the resources needed to properly treat people who depend on medically necessary services,” Rubio wrote Hargan. “Many Floridians contact my office every day to emphasize that their family and friends in Puerto Rico are still struggling to recover from this deadly storm. There are news reports that some water in Puerto Rico has been contaminated, causing people to contract leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, and death. I am very concerned that there could be additional cases of leptospirosis or other bacterial infections, and that the island’s lack of resources could prevent those infected from receiving necessary treatment.
“There are also ongoing concerns about patients’ access to consistent dialysis treatment and oxygen supplies,” Rubio continued. “I have personally heard from providers and officials on the island that there are incredible difficulties in getting supplies for these services distributed to those in need. While I understand your department has taken steps to prevent this, I am concerned that there has not been enough progress on a plan to provide a long-term solution so patients and officials are not constantly struggling with one crisis after another.
“Please provide a complete update and assessment of the public health concerns still plaguing Puerto Rico. I also urge you to immediately clarify the conflicting information reported by government officials and media outlets,” Rubio concluded. “Furthermore, I request that you continue to strengthen your agency’s partnership with the governor of Puerto Rico, local officials, and other federal agencies to ensure the recovery efforts are as smooth and efficient as possible. I stand ready and willing to assist in these efforts.”
Rubio was joined by his Senate colleague U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who also wrote to Hargan about Puerto Rico on Friday. Noting there was a “humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico” Nelson pointed to an article in the New York Times and called for action from HHS.
“Three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall, only 10 percent of the island has power. At least 40 percent of the island doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Contaminated floodwaters are placing thousands of residents at-risk of infection, and even death,” Nelson wrote. “Access to oxygen supplies, medicines and diesel to power generators are limited. Sixty-seven of the nearly 70 hospitals are operational with 29 running off temporary generators. Forty-three of the island’s 48 dialysis centers are operational, and yet dialysis patients are receiving reduced treatments. While these numbers sound encouraging, I’m concerned they’re painting a much rosier picture than reality.
“According to the article, individuals who depend on oxygen tanks, ventilators, and dialysis are dying or are at risk because of limited access to medically necessary services and fuel supplies to power generators,” Nelson added. “Generator power is intended to be a temporary solution and it will be months before power is fully restored. At a minimum, these facilities need sufficient diesel—or an alternative power source, like solar-powered generators— to keep their patients alive and healthy.
“While I understand the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is sending personnel and resources to Puerto Rico, this article made clear that it is not enough. The situation is not improving, and Americans are dying. I have raised this issue with your agency before, and I urge you now to take immediate steps to prevent further loss of life,” Nelson concluded. “I implore you to partner with the island to ensure that priority locations like dialysis centers and hospitals have access to an adequate supplies of diesel, personnel, and medication, and have power restored as soon as possible. In addition, I have heard from dialysis providers who are struggling to get fresh water and diesel into Puerto Rico because an inconsistent flight schedule is making it difficult to time the delivery of its shipments. To that end, I ask you to coordinate with other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, to help these supplies get to where they are most needed. The actions mentioned above only scratch the surface of what needs to be done. I urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to act before more people die and this becomes a full-blown crisis.”