Puerto Rico Still Suffering; MGH Deploys to Help

As of the end of last week, about 34% of Puerto Rico residents lacked electrical power and in some parts of the island at least 10% of the residents didn’t have running water. Hospitals continued to receive assistance from humanitarian workers deploying from U.S. states and other countries. Because many healthcare workers, public safety and environmental health personnel continue to travel from Massachusetts to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help with their hurricane recovery efforts, the Boston Public Health Commission and Massachusetts DPH issued a health and safety advisory last week.

The advisory cautions volunteers to, among other things, avoid drinking or using ice made from tap or well water, and eating food served at room temperature or raw/uncooked meat/fish. Because Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are at risk for outbreaks of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, pregnant relief workers are discouraged from deploying. All workers must have current vaccinations and they were cautioned that the stressful conditions could affect their mental health.

On November 25 a medical team from Massachusetts General Hospital deployed to Puerto Rico for an estimated 16 days. The 26-person team includes 15 nurses, four nurse practitioners, five doctors, one physician assistant, and one logistics/security staff person. The deployment was coordinated by MGH, DPH, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). The request for assistance from Puerto Rico came through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which is the national emergency management mutual aid system that facilitates state-to-state disaster assistance.