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MGMA members work to provide medical care in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

By Shannon Geis, MA
October 12, 2017

Hurricane coverage has dominated the news over the past few months, with Hurricane Harvey flooding parts of Texas and Hurricane Irma hitting Florida and the Caribbean. Recently, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico when it made landfall Sept. 20, 2017.

The island has dealt with flooding and a loss of power since the storm, as well as a shortage of all types of supplies and limited access to medical care and other resources. The U.S. territory already was dealing with a debt crisis prior to the storm, and the hurricane has exasperated the island’s already limited resources.

For Priscilla Gonzalez, RN, MBA, MS, MGMA member, vice president operations, and Angel Rivera-Martinez, MBA, MHSA, MGMA member, network management manager, Castellana Physician Services, San Juan, Puerto Rico, the storms have meant working continuously to try to provide care to their patients and connect people to medical services.

“Many of the 200,000 members of our group have special needs or are elderly,” Gonzalez explains. After the storm, patients of the group went to medical offices looking for care and left notes outside about who needed help. “We took photos of the notes and then worked with our physicians to go out and find them and bring them care.”

The lack of electricity has been an enormous barrier for providers on the island. “Physicians want to stay longer to help, but it is impossible without electricity.” The damage to the power grid was so disastrous that some rural parts of Puerto Rico could be without electricity for up to a year.
Many of the group’s patients don’t have access to phones or other types of communication, so Gonzalez and Rivera-Martinez and their organization have had to find other ways to getting messages out to the community about where they can find care, including posting signs and announcing information on the radio.

Now that the storm has passed, the lack of access to medical care and other resources is causing other public health issues. There is a severe lack of drinking water and many people are getting sick because of unsanitary conditions, Gonzalez explains. Many patients are also unable to get the medications they need to manage their chronic illnesses. “There’s a shortage of insulin and other special medications,” says Gonzalez.

Amid all the work they are doing in Puerto Rico, Gonzalez and Rivera-Martinez made their way to Anaheim, Calif., for the MGMA 2017 Annual Conference to continue to learn with their peers but also to share their story with the MGMA membership and the wider healthcare community.

“It is important to let people know what’s happening and how to help,” Gonzalez says. “This isn’t about politics — this is about people getting help.”

Both Gonzalez and Rivera-Martinez say there is still a lot of work to be done and many supplies are needed, including flashlights, batteries, medical supplies and more. They hope that being able to talk about their experiences with others at MGMA17 could spread awareness about their situation and how others can help.

“We thank MGMA for the opportunity and efforts to help our island. It’s a great opportunity to empower many medical groups and other companies in this moment of need where there are almost four million U.S. citizens and an island in great need for recovery. It is almost impossible to do it alone,” Rivera-Martinez says.

If you want to help, there is information at Innovacare Health, the parent company for Castellana Physician Services, about the different ways to help or donate to the cause.

Shannon Geis, MA, Staff writer/editor, MGMA

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