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Medical Care Poses Additional Hurdle For Hurricane Displaced Puerto Ricans

Nov 29, 2017

People displaced by the disaster in Puerto Rico face multiple problems - finding housing, getting kids settled in schools, adjusting to a new climate. And all of those can be intensified if they’re also dealing with health issues.

Right after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, worried relatives with ties to the island started trying to contact family members. Evelyn Ramos from Derby tried repeatedly to get through to her mother - with an added urgency - since the 79-year-old has dementia.

“I called every day,” Ramos said. “Even my sister did the same thing - four times, six times. It ended up, I called somebody from my husband’s side to go see how she’s doing and tell her that I’m going to pick her up. But I never heard anything about it. I was desperate.”

It was through a cousin that Ramos finally heard that her mother was safe. But it took two weeks before she and her sister could get to their mother in Puerto Rico. When they arrived, they found her slightly disoriented, with no power or running water.

Medical care is posing an additional hurdle for people that are still on the island and for those that are leaving with no access to their medical records or health insurance. Ramos and her sister brought their mother back with them. But now the question is, what’s next?

“We don’t know yet. It all depends,” Ramos said. “You know, we were planning to keep her here. She wants to go back. She said, ‘as soon as the power and the water comes I want to go back.’ She’s not going to be able to live by herself too long.”

Fortunately her mother’s doctor is a relative. So they were able to adjust her medication and transfer her refills to a local pharmacy.

But that hasn’t been the case for the newly arrived patients being treated at Sanitas Medical Center.

Ana Eady is practice manager at their Newington office where they’ve been treating children and adults from Puerto Rico for weeks. She said a lack of proper records can be challenging.

“I had a lady, she just wrote down all of the meds that she was taking,” Eady said. “She said this is my list of medications. This is what I have. For those things that the doctor could easily provide a refill for, he did. For other things, you know, you need to get to know the patient for the safety of the patient. So we obviously invited these patients back.”

Sanitas is running a United for Puerto Rico campaign where they’re offering free wellness exams. This includes vaccines and blood work for children as well as flu vaccines for adults. The exams provide a baseline as they get to know the patients better.

“A lot of these people are coming, they’re not working, they do qualify for Medicaid and Husky,” Eady said. “And so we provide them with all of the information that they’ll need. And then we follow up with them. Just to keep them going, because obviously we want them to come back. Especially those that need additional prescriptions that we weren’t able to give right away, because we need to get to know them a little bit more.”

The lack of medical records and missing lists of medications remain their biggest challenge. Clinicians are basically starting from scratch with no medical history.

Sanitas is one of several health centers in the state offering medical support for people arriving from Puerto Rico.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.