After Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, Puerto Rico’s public health system was overwhelmed with people in need.
now,It is expected to add to the island’s health care crisis. About half of the people living on the island depend on the public health system. And local officials say federal funding gaps have led to staff shortages and long wait times for patients.
Experts say Hurricane Maria has already exposed a deteriorating system.
“If you ask all the players in the health care system, patients, providers and administrators, they’ll all agree … Maria just showed you what’s going on, but before that the system collapsed,” said Nelson Varas-Diaz, a Florida International University researcher who Supervised research to assess health care conditions on the island.
Varas-Diaz points to debt as a reason for the decline.
“The decline is largely due to debt and Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and the historic privatization of the health care system there. Our research shows patients are waiting six to eight months to get an appointment with a specialist. If that’s not a sign of a decline, I don’t know what is,” Varas said. – Diaz said.
Dr. Edgar Domenech Fagundo, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Ponce, Puerto Rico, saw 30 patients a day when he started his practice in 1999. More than two decades later, this number has nearly doubled.
“On average I see 50 to 60 patients a day when I’m in the office,” Fagundo said.
His schedule is so busy that he doesn’t see any new patients until March 2023. He said the delay could have potentially life-threatening effects on people.
“The longer people wait, the longer their diagnosis is delayed. And so things like cancer and other illnesses, you want to treat them sooner so patients have a better chance of recovery,” Fagundo said.
Dr. Carlos Melado, who became Puerto Rico’s health secretary a year ago, said Puerto Rico has only 17 neurosurgeons — for a population of 3.2 million.
Nicole Damiani’s husband, Carlos Rivera, was hospitalized earlier this month after falling to the floor and having a seizure. He had to wait eight days before seeing a neurosurgeon. Carlos had bleeding and swelling on the brain.
“It’s really hard to find a neurosurgeon here in Puerto Rico. And it got to the point where I really gave up on life,” he said.
One of the reasons it is so difficult for Carlos to get medical care is that many Puerto Rican doctors are moving to Florida where the pay is significantly better.
Registered nurse Guillaume Elias, who has been a nurse at the Centro Médico de Puerto Rico for 19 years, rides his son’s bicycle to work because he can’t afford a car. He said his bi-weekly check is about $891 and it’s not enough for his family to live on.
Even those just getting into the field say they are worried about the future of Puerto Rico’s health care.
“We look at the conditions around us, what the doctors tell us, our own professors, family members who may be in medicine. We constantly hear about the problems facing the island. And in just three years, we may be where we will be or we will be moving.” Make that unfortunate decision and it’s completely out of our control,” said second-year medical student Carlo Bosquez.