El Mensajero (English)

Posted: October 15, 2018

Displaced Puerto Ricans have unique health-care needs

By James Sutton

Hurricane Maria is the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rico. Maria’s 2,975 deaths are far greater than the estimated 1,800 lives lost from Hurricane Katrina.
 
Puerto Rico suffered catastrophic damage from the Category 5 storm, including destruction of its electrical grid. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated at upwards of $92 billion, but the real damage is the toll this disaster has had on people’s lives.
 
Rochester has seen a mass influx of residents from Puerto Rico due to poor living conditions and lack of power, housing and jobs on the island. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College estimates that up to 213,000 Puerto Rican residents have moved to the mainland. To date, Rochester has received more displaced people from Puerto Rico than New York City. The Red Cross and Ibero-American Action League estimate that more than 4,000 people from Puerto Rico have already fled to Rochester.
 
Displaced Puerto Ricans in Rochester have unique health-care needs. Many are still living with relatives or in temporary housing; arrive with inappropriate clothing for our climate; can’t find employment due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with Rochester; and lack transportation. These “social” issues become a barrier to obtaining appropriate health-care services. Many patients arrive without being on their medications for long periods of time and having had their medical records destroyed by the storm. All of these issues — coupled with anxiety, depression and PTSD from experiencing one of the worst hurricanes in history — makes health care absolutely vital, yet difficult to obtain.
 
Many agencies, including Rochester Regional Health, have stepped up to address these issues and stabilize the health conditions of Puerto Ricans arriving from the island. Through the leadership of Ibero, our community has come together to welcome and assist these new arrivals. Many issues still need to be addressed, but the people arriving are resilient and survivors, and better days are ahead for them.
 
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Sutton is the director of the Office of Community Health for Rochester Regional Health.

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