What Will Happen to Patients in Puerto Rico?

Hurricane Maria has had a devastating impact on Puerto Rico’s health care system, in addition to creating historic destruction of lives and property.

Over the last decade Puerto Rico has been suffering from an economic recession. Due to this recession there has been a massive exodus of people leaving the island and going to the U.S. mainland. If you look at that migration it has been mostly middle class and professionals — including doctors and nurses whose skills are sorely missed on the island.

For these and other reasons, the health care system in Puerto Rico has been deteriorating. There are long delays in emergency rooms, long delays getting emergency services to respond to critical patients, and a shortage of physicians and nurses. And this was before Maria made things much worse.

The health statistics of Puerto Rico are quite problematic. Life expectancy for men is an average of 75 years. The physician ratio is about 1.75 per 1,000 people and the quality of the health care system ranks 69 percent overall compared to states in the U.S. Many Puerto Ricans receive Medicaid and Medicare and many people are uninsured.

Close to 60,000 children are born on the island every year. The adult population faces many medical challenges including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Now with no electricity on the entire island and the possibility of power not being restored for months, many patients are being exposed to great risks. Areas of the island have been isolated by floods, roads have been destroyed and communities are unable to communicate at the present time. Some hospitals have been overrun by flood waters.

Related: Long-Term Health Impacts of Hurricanes Can Last for Years

Puerto Ricans need our help. We must not forget that the island is an American commonwealth and that all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. And we must not forget the great sacrifices that Puerto Ricans have made in the course of keeping our freedom alive. Puerto Rican members of the military have participated in every major conflict this country has had since World War II.

At the present time the angels in our military are arriving with help, but we all need to do our part. One of the first things that must be stabilized from this horrible disaster are places where people can go and get medical help. If this is not done in the short term, Hurricane Maria will take a terrible toll on the health of Puerto Ricans.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News piece is used by permission; it also appeared on AskDrManny.com.

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