The Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2017
Daniela Hernandez


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In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans are grappling with growing health concerns due to a lack of reliable access to medical care, supplies and clean water.

Maggie Reuteman, a volunteer registered nurse with the Red Cross in Puerto Rico, said some patients on oxygen are rationing their supply, fearing they won’t get more in time. That could lead to respiratory infections like pneumonia, if patients can’t breathe properly and fluid builds up in the lungs, she said.

Local residents have reported cases of eye infections and say they are concerned about other health risks from exposure to dirty floodwaters and debris. Fernando Roura, an emergency room doctor at the Centro Medico hospital in San Juan, said the most common ailments doctors are treating are from falls, wounds and renal failure.

“The situation is high risk,” said Cecilia Jimenez Diaz, a resident of San Juan. She and her sisters are leaving Puerto Rico in coming days to stay with family off the island. One of her sisters suffers from depression, the other from seizures. “We’re elderly. We’re very worried,” she said.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday the official death count from the strongest storm to hit the island in almost a century had risen to 34 from 16. Three of those, he said, were due to failed oxygen delivery following electrical outages. Other causes of death include suicide following the storm, heart attacks and drownings. Two deaths occurred during search and rescue operations, he said.

Gov. Rosselló said the government is monitoring the public-health situation closely to identify any potential outbreaks of illness or disease. So far, that hasn’t happened. He said cases of the eye infection conjunctivitis had popped up in a shelter in Ponce, on the southern coast of the island. Mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika and chikungunya, are also a source of concern.

“Mosquitoes, incidents that might be occurring in hospitals, incidents that might be occurring in shelters—we want to be two steps ahead of them before they become a big problem,” Gov. Rosselló said.

During President Donald Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico Tuesday, Gov. Rosselló said he discussed the so-called “Medicaid cliff” that Puerto Rico faces as Obamacare block grants of federal funding end. Medicaid refers to government-funded insurance for the poor.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 44% of Puerto Ricans live in poverty. Roughly half are enrolled in Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health care.

The end of the block grants would cut Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico from $1.6 billion to roughly $350 million, Gov. Rosselló said. [...]

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