Picking Up the Pieces: Life After the Storms

Hurricanes Irma and Maria changed the lives of Puerto Ricans forever. Governmental recovery efforts have not accomplished their goal. The generalized lack of electric service is the most obvious one as it affects all walks of life. It is thus ironic that PREPA — the worst-run agency — controls the recovery and future of the Island.

More than three months after the storms, over 1 million electric customers still have no electricity, including a myriad of physicians and medical facilities.

Puerto Rico has excellent medical professionals, many of whom still are passionate about saving lives. One of them is Dr. Roberto Marchan, a renowned pediatric radiologist who, despite the horrific economic situation affecting doctors in Puerto Rico for over ten years, has refused to abandon ship.

The humble petition he published today on Facebook moved me so much, that I decided right away to attempt helping him. I translated the text of his petition as follows:

Today is the one hundred seventh day without electricity in my home and even worse, my office is still closed. I don’t have “connections” in PREPA (@aeeonline) and no one can tell me when will the lower part of Piñero Avenue where my office is located will be energized. For three months, I have been working ad honorem at the Pediatric Hospital. My love for that hospital contributes immensely to my mental health but my resources have been depleted. It would be very sad to end this way a private practice where I know I have been able to help so many of my patients. The Lord has blessed me by giving me enough health as to be able to work and teach for at least another 10 years. Where is that helping hand that can aid me energize my office? I deeply miss my patients, my employees, and my colleagues that have loyally trusted their patients to me. My FB contacts are very few. I need for you to share this post with anyone you can. I will be eternally grateful.

The aftermath of back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria had disastrous effects on the medical profession. It exacerbated the problems that were already affecting it. Many offices sustained serious damages. A myriad of patients have fled to the mainland, conservative estimates calculating the migration to the US in over 300,000 persons. The lack of electric service has being a physical and/or financial obstacle for doctors, preventing them from receiving patients in their offices.

PREPA’s failure to provide electricity to medical facilities has exacerbated the crisis that the mass exodus of medical professionals to the mainland has created. The scarce medical services available to the residents of Puerto Rico prior to the storms had become a tragedy. It is now a crisis.

The massive exodus of medical professionals dating a few years back prompted the government to enact a favorable tax credit law for doctors in an effort to dissuade them from leaving Puerto Rico.

http://caribbeanbusiness.com/governor-presents-strategy-to-stop-doctors-from-fleeing-puerto-rico/

Despite the government’s best efforts to retain doctors, it is PREPA that has the real say on whether many of them will stay or not.

PREPA: THE GATEKEEPER WHO DETERMINES WHO SURVIVES AND WHO GOES UNDER

PREPA’s undeniable incompetence in handling the reconstruction of the electric grid takes many forms. One of the most tragic ones is its failure to ensure that doctor’s offices and laboratories get immediate electric service. A great number of them have been forced to close their offices, destroying those professionals’ lifelong careers.

It is no secret that for decades, Puerto Ricans have been hostages of the state-run electric utility/monopoly PREPA and its union, UTIER. PREPA charges the highest rate per kilowatt in the nation (31 cents per kw) and provides the worst service. The voltage variations and constant blackouts destroy electric appliances and equipment, adding exorbitant costs to any household or business beyond those related to the electric consumption.

During the past decades, there have been feeble attempts at privatization. However, the instances when a governor has flirted with the idea of ‘privatization’, an unexpected ‘accident’ has occurred that resulted in an island-wide blackout. Coincidentally, in all instances the redundant systems that were supposed to prevent the complete failure of the grid, also collapsed because of ‘lack of maintenance or parts’.

Consistent with its all-mighty role as the entity with the most control of the Island, currently PREPA determines where the power restoration work be carried out. News reports have gone further and asserted that some UTIER brigades have extorted thousands of dollars from desperate customers in exchange for expedited service to get power back in their homes or businesses. Hence, PREPA and UTIER overtly control the destinies of the Island inasmuch as they decide who gets to earn a living and open their practice or business, and who does not. Plainly stated: across all professions and businesses, PREPA and UTIER have become the gatekeepers who determine who gets the privilege to operate or not.

The last 107 days since Irma’s passage have unequivocally proven that PREPA lacks the capacity or the desire to jumpstart Puerto Rico’s electric grid, holding hostage our economy.

In light of PREPA’s total inability to carry out a coherent and effective restoration plan in over three months, the United States Army Corps of Engineers should come to the rescue of the American Citizens living in Puerto Rico. In so doing, it should direct and take over the grid reconstruction process. Hiring brigades of accountable entities such as ConEdison, Orange & Rockland, and Pike that have demonstrated their commitment and expertise while lighting up Puerto Rico, will ensure that USACE makes the best use of the resources that Congress allots to accomplish the goal of turning on the lights in the entire Island.

It is my hope that the powers that be realize that Dr. Marchan’s office should get connected to the electric grid immediately. After all, his office is located in 271 Piñero Avenue, a busy commercial area in the middle of Rio Piedras. It is not located in a rural, sparsely populated, mountainous region such as the ones that PREPA likes to brag about in self-serving videos showing the ninja line workers restoring electric service with ‘heroic feats’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRyk3sGt2Jk

Puerto Rico cannot afford to continue losing talented professionals like Dr. Marchan because of PREPA’s mediocrity and complete failure to set priorities straight. Losing them will have negative exponential consequences in the lives of all those that need his medical attention.

As much as Dr. Marchan deserves to get power back in his office, the people of Puerto Rico need for his office, as well as those medical professionals in his same situation, to get power. Now.

Puerto Rican mother, attorney, warrior & survivor; fighting for equal environmental rights, one pipe at a time”. “Mi nada, a nadie se lo debo.” Julia de Burgos.

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