Six months after hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, local officials described progress but also a long road to full recovery of the U.S. territories’ health care systems, economies and infrastructure during a public briefing Monday at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Washington D.C. offices.
An archived webcast of the 90-minute briefing on the status of the recovery on the islands, with a focus on their health care systems, can be viewed online at kff.org. Officials from both territories said new federal Medicaid money recently approved by Congress will be critical to continuing recovery efforts and financing health care delivery. However, they expressed concerns about fiscal challenges the territories will face when that funding runs out in 2019.
Health care practitioners and administrators noted that although hospitals and clinics have resumed operations, capacity remains limited and the territories face increasing supply challenges due to the loss of health professionals leaving the islands. In a new video, released at the briefing and recorded earlier this month during a visit by KFF experts to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents spoke of enduring trauma and mental health challenges, continued disruption to their jobs and housing, unstable outages and reduced tourism and other business activity and employment.
Diane Rowland, the Executive Vice President of KFF, moderated the event, and KFF experts Barbara Lyons and Samantha Artiga shared insights from a recent fact-finding visit to the territories. Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S. Virgin Islands) provided remarks. Panelists included Joshua Barnes, Acting Director of Recovery, Office of Emergency Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado, M.D., Secretary of Health for Puerto Rico; Ivonne Rivera-Hernández, Executive Director of HealthproMed, a community health center in Puerto Rico; and Bernard A. Wheatley, Chief Executive Officer of the Schneider Regional Medical Center, U.S. Virgin Islands.
The kff.org web page with the archived webcast of the briefing also links to presentation slides, speaker bios and written remarks from Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico).