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A Connecticut Doctor Surveys Gaps In Puerto Rican Health Care After Hurricane Maria

Robert Fuller was loading his car with supplies in San Juan, getting ready to leave the battered capital for a trip inland to survey damage to local health facilities, when we caught up with him by phone.

Lea esta historia en español. / Read this story in Spanish.

He’s traveled in other disaster-ravaged areas -- Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. And while other disasters have seen heavy loss of life on the front end of the event, Fuller said the Puerto Rican situation is different.  

“This is the first time where I’ve seen such wall-to-wall, corner-to-corner, 100 percent population affected,” he said, just two days after his arrival on the island. “So many people are reliant on a health care delivery chain that’s been interrupted. That chain relies on power and fuel to move goods and meds to places where the patients can access them. The clinics where they might normally receive care in, likewise, need to be up and running.”

“If you don’t backfill that quickly, people will end up suffering,” Fuller said Wednesday morning. “The diabetics without their insulin will get sick and could perish as a result of this two weeks from now.”

Fuller is the head of emergency medicine at the University of Connecticut and is working on the ground with International Medical Corps, a California-based first-response organization.

Credit Ken Cedeno / International Medical Corps
International Medical Corps
Damage to one of the patient rooms at Hospital Menonita de Caguas in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

Nearly one week after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, parts of the island remain disconnected from food, water, and medical services.

Telecommunication throughout the island has been slow to get back up. Many in Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community have been unable to reach family and friends since the hurricane hit.

Friends on the mainland who have family on the island have asked, through his wife, whether he could help make contact. But, Fuller said, there’s no way to communicate on the island outside of San Juan.

“My gentle counsel to people in Connecticut with Puerto Rican connections is: Have faith that they’re probably doing alright because it seems like they’re going to be doing alright,” he said.  

That is, he said, unless those connections have chronic medical conditions that need medicine and care. For them, time is of the essence.

Tucker Ives contributed to this report.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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