"People Are Going To Start Dying" - Puerto Rico's Battered Hospitals On Verge Of Failure

A week after then-category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall in densely populated eastern Puerto Rico, electricity remains offline across most of the island, while supplies of staples like gas, food and water are dwindling. Shelters on the island are reportedly running low on food, and the government managers of the emergency response effort are scrambling to evacuate 70,000 people from a river valley that’s in danger of being completely submerged after a nearby dam failed.

And now, Reuters is reporting that hospitals across the island are struggling to continue providing medical services to patients after the storm left many of them flooded, strewn with rubble or relying on diesel-powered generators that will soon run out of fuel. For some, the only option is to evacuate to the United States for treatment.

Among these patients is a baby with a heart defect who had the misfortune of being born just before Maria hit.

“Among them is Cheira Ruiz and her baby girl Gabriellyz, who was born two weeks ago with a serious heart defect. The newborn was admitted to the Centro Cardiovascular de Puerto Rico in the capital shortly before Maria slammed into the island last Wednesday, but it was impossible for doctors to operate in such precarious conditions.”


Gabriellyz was among the first infants cleared to take a medical flight out of Puerto Rico since the storm. Her parents, who live two hours south of the capital, found out the good news Friday when emergency officials knocked on their door in the town of Guanica and told them to pack for the trip to Miami. With phone service out, the doctors had called one of the island’s radio stations, which broadcast their plea for help in locating the couple.


Hours before the flight was scheduled to depart, the parents learned there was only room for one of them. Mother and baby would fly alone to Miami.


“I’m trying to be strong,” Ruiz said on Saturday.”

Across the island, the scene is nightmarish as motorists and pedestrians line up for blocks waiting to purchase scare resources like fuel to power the generators. Cellular service, internet, and email have vanished, and radio has become a primary source of information. In what sounds like a plot detail from the Mad Max movies, fuel is in such short supply on the island that deliveries to hospitals are made by armed guards to fend off looters. Hospitals trying to transfer critical patients are being turned down by other facilities, simply because there is no room, or they can’t afford to purchase fuel.

For hospitals across this region, the challenges are mounting. After the power went out, back-up generators at some hospitals failed quickly. Other hospitals are running critically low on diesel. Fuel is so precious that deliveries are made by armed guards to prevent looting, according to Dr. Ivan Gonzalez Cancel, a cardiovascular surgeon and director of the heart transplant program at Centro Cardiovascular.


“Another hospital wants to transfer two critical patients here because they don’t have electricity,” Gonzalez Cancel said. “We can’t take them. We have the same problem.”

Another problem is that nurses and doctors are running low on gasoline for their daily commutes to work. Puerto Ricans are waiting as long as seven hours at the island’s few functioning filling stations. Marilyn Rivera Morales, a nurse at a hospital cardiovascular center run by Dr. Ivan Gonzalez Cancel who spoke with Reuters, said she had enough gas left to drive to the hospital for two more days.

“How will they keep coming here if they don’t have gas?” Gonzalez Cancel wondered.

Gonzalez’s cardiovascular center was “in shambles,” he told Reuters Running without air conditioning, the walls of the operating room were dripping with condensation and floors were slippery. Most patients had been discharged or evacuated to other facilities, but some patients remained because their families could not be reached by phone. On the sidewalk outside the cardiac center on Saturday, Jorge Rivera and his wife Dorca approached Gonzalez Cancel to ask about the woman’s father, a patient still inside waiting for triple-bypass surgery. The couple are residents of Savannah, Georgia who were in Puerto Rico to care for their loved one.

The Doctor responded with what we imagine was unwelcome news: They’d have better luck if they took Dorca’s father elsewhere.

With the hospital scaling down operations and the island’s infrastructure on its knees, Gonzalez Cancel estimated he would not perform another open heart surgery for a month or more. His advice to the couple: leave.


“I am talking to you, not as a physician, I am talking to you as a human being,” he said. “Get him on a plane. You can be in Miami in two and a half hours.”

But of course, even leaving the island is a process fraught with difficulty.

With the island’s main airport still crippled, Gonzalez Cancel said he needed to secure a special waiver from authorities to obtain the medical evacuation flight for baby Gabriellyz. Travelers at the airport on Sunday were told that passengers who do not already have tickets may not be able to secure flights out until October 4.

With the situation on the island set to get worse before it gets better, some – Hillary Clinton among them – are calling on President Donald Trump to send the navy to Puerto Rico to help with the recovery effort. The devastation caused by Maria is similar to that wrought by hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma, Reuters noted. But Puerto Rico’s remoteness and fragile infrastructure have made the logistics of organizing a disaster response very challenging.

Dr. Gonzalez Cancel also said the island needs the military to help with its recovery effort.

“We need a massive military response,” surgeon Gonzalez Cancel said. Because if more help doesn’t arrive soon, “people are going to start dying.”


Waiting for news about his father-in-law, Rivera, the Georgia resident and a 49-year-old Iraq War veteran, said the U.S. military could only do so much. He forecast the island would take months to get back on its feet.


“You need God pretty much to fix every light bulb,” he said.


Dr. Juan Carlos Sotomonte, the medical director of the Centro Medico‘s cardiovascular unit, said intervention – divine or otherwise – is needed fast.


“If this is not taken care of, people are going to start dying,” he said.

Making matters worse, the difficulties facing Puerto Rico's hospitals may just be the calm before the storm. As supplies continue to dwindle and the island’s strapped finances hinder the recovery effort, the precarious situation facing Puerto Rico’s hospitals will probably worsen before it gets better.


MoreFreedom Richard Chesler Mon, 09/25/2017 - 13:59 Permalink

Puerto Ricans kept voting for more government (1/4 of the employees on the island are paid by the government, but whether they do anything of value is questionable) and more debt.  What's going on, is the PR politicians are trying to renege on money they borrowed and promised to pay with the full faith and credit of PR,  so they can continue to pay the gold plated defined benefit pensions of former government employees, and continue the welfare for those they depend upon to elect them.  The island is extremely corrupt, crime ridden, and a lousy place to live (unless you're getting a government check - but not for long). Now they're broke and should be sleeping in the bed they made. That's the only way to fix the island.  And it will probably take a decade or two.

In reply to by Richard Chesler

Keyser BarkingCat Mon, 09/25/2017 - 20:32 Permalink

I keep thinking about the 1% folks that moved to Puerto Rico, lock, stock and barrel... Folks like Peter Schiff and Mike Maloney, both singing the praises of low taxes, tropical lifestayle and cheap prices in Puerto Rico... I guess the 10+ year lapse in hurricane activity dulled their perception of the real danger of living in a known hurricane zone... Survival rule number 4, never live in a place that is subject to natural disasters on a regular basis...  

In reply to by BarkingCat

Endgame Napoleon curbjob Mon, 09/25/2017 - 17:41 Permalink

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They can come here any time they want. We on the mainland, USA will soon be competing with them for jobs, too, and as citizens, they have the right. The government has various reasons to help them with the direst emergencies, one of which is a hurricane of impending immigration. It is also the humane thing to do when it is your fellow citizens.

In reply to by curbjob

MoreFreedom Kprime Mon, 09/25/2017 - 14:03 Permalink

PR already has a huge government (1/4 of employees are paid by the government) and higher taxes than US mainlanders (at all income levels).  That's why they're broke.  The only thing left to tax, is the real property on the island.  And the government workers and retirees won't like that.

In reply to by Kprime

Buck Johnson Falling Down Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:27 Permalink

Thats exactly what is going to happen.  You see we are seeing the first cracks in this shit sandwich and even the govt. knows that they have no way of paying for anything that is needed to support their ISLAND population of close to 4 milion.  I see a mass exodus of people to as you said NY and FL.  And trust me this will make the Mariel boatlift look like a weekend on campus.  And Trump will be in a pickle because his own base will be against those people coming to the mainland. 

In reply to by Falling Down

HillaryOdor Fahq Yuhaad Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:58 Permalink

Low taxes for businesses that provide services to mainland America.  It's not like it's some libertarian small government society, quite the opposite.  If it were they would have savings to rebuild.  Now they're fucked because they're following the same idiotic model as the rest of the world, only they can't print their own money.  Of course you kind of have to follow the same model as the rest of the world if you don't want to be invaded, well even more invaded than they already were.The tax burden on the average citizen is similar to the rest of the US, with PR taxes about equal to federal + state for most states, which is why it would be idiotic for them to become a US state because then they'd have to pay US federal taxes on top of that.  But stupid people with no skills love taxes.

In reply to by Fahq Yuhaad

HillaryOdor bonin006 Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:28 Permalink

I am not sure how it works.  I looked into it a little bit because I do not want to support the US war machine.  The only information I gathered was that US residents living there did NOT have to file US federal income tax, but you still have to pay Puerto Rico tax, which is substantial so you don't save.  I believe the laws which gave low taxes only apply to businesses that supply services to mainland America.  I'm not sure about that, but that's what I understood it to mean, and that's why I gave up on the idea of moving there without a business.  It seemed you don't really save money without one.  If you do run a business it's only like 4% tax, which is great.

In reply to by bonin006

BeansMcGreens Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:36 Permalink

Thank goodness cruise ships have loaded up in New York City with Puerto Rico’s finest and supplies to head down to the Motherland to help out.But first I hope they get those pigeons out of the hospital.

idahobandito Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:37 Permalink

Does Hillary want the Navy to start bombing PR??? I think that sendiing in the army corp of engineers, when the lineman are finished in Florida, send them in too. In the mean time, Im sure there are supplies been sent in right now. A disaster isnt repaired over night. I took a week to get power back where I live a few winters ago...except for us that were prepared with gensets.

Gead Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:40 Permalink

So? What's to be done? Evacuate all the residents? Spend vast amounts of non-real money rapidly printed to buy non-existent materials required to save the island? These are people who live in a commonwealth, an unincorporated territory of the United States. They are natural-born US citizens. Seems to me we need to get quickly to the process of moving the illegals out of this country and start looking after our own. Idea!!! Flotilla the illegals to Puerto Rico and pick up the population there. An even swap. Then........ we got our folks home to the mainland and the aliens get a chance to either rebuild the island for themselves or......... perish.

silverer Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:43 Permalink

I'll bet that right now the politicians of that country are enjoying a day of golf someplace. Nice job, spending the country into oblivion.

Dr. Engali Mon, 09/25/2017 - 09:42 Permalink

Terrible shit going on everywhere and the nation is arguing over one ungrateful football player taking a knee. Distractions, distractions, distractions.

Buckaroo Banzai Dr. Engali Mon, 09/25/2017 - 11:28 Permalink

"Terrible shit going on everywhere and the nation is arguing over one ungrateful football player taking a knee. Distractions, distractions, distractions."Terrible shit happens every day, Dr. Engali, but demographic replacement only happens once. 1965 America was 90% white, 10% black. Now, thanks to the Hart-Celler act and the total surrender of national border control, it's 60% white, 13% black, and and 27% percent brown and yellow. Now, we've indulged our pet negro sportsballers so much, they are throwing a tantrum because blacks won't stop killing each other, and blaming it on whitey. Twenty more years and this will be a non-white country. At that point, "blaming whitey" won't just be manifested as disrespecting the flag and the nation-- it'll be simply about killing whitey, because black and brown respect nothing except brute force, and when they finally get numbers on their side, that's what they are going to be dishing out. Take a look at South America and Africa, if you don't believe what I'm saying.So, what's the real "distraction"? If you like what you see going on around you, just keep pretending that hurricanes--which will come and go until the sun burns out-- are the real problem here.

In reply to by Dr. Engali

Cloud9.5 TabakLover Mon, 09/25/2017 - 10:13 Permalink

A buddy of mine owns a pawn shop and she tells me the bottom quartile is being flooded with aid.  I received a case of water, a box of food and a tarp.  The food and water I did not need, but that is what the guard put in my truck as I drove through the que at the armory.  I needed the tarp because none could be bought in my area. I spent over a $1000 just removing downed trees and debris to the edge of the road on my property.  I burned 75 gallons of gasoline keeping our mothers cool.  Both my mother and my mother in law need new roofs.  They are each going to spend $4000 out of pocket before their insurance companies will cover the loss. In 2016 I paid $20,623.00 in taxes.  Based on current prices, I feel fairly confident that the government made money off of me last year.  For me and mine, there is no FEMA subsidy.

In reply to by TabakLover