On Tuesday, October 24th a team of medical providers from the University of Rochester Medical Center flew to Puerto Rico to provide much-needed aid and care to residents as they continue to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused widespread consecutive devastation.
For two weeks, the team treated residents who didn’t have clean drinking water, didn’t know where their primary care doctors had gone, and were beginning to manifest anxiety and depression in the wake of the disaster.
Dr. Luis Rosario-McCabe, Out Alliance Board member, Senior Nurse Practioner at URMC, and co-owner of Cloverfield Farm in Chili with husband Michael, was part of that team.
He sat down to tell us more about the trip and how we can continue to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.
First, can you tell me how the trip to Puerto Rico was organized? When was it decided the team would go?
The emergency medical deployment was organized by the Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS). I don’t know the specifics of how it was organized, but it was a logistical nightmare to get the 156 of us who were deployed to go to PR. I was in the second group of 77 who were deployed. Hospital administration sent an email message to people who might be interested, and I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure the size of the pool they choice from, but ultimately 11 from UR Medicine were chosen: 1 physician, 2 NP, 8 RNs, and 1 LPN. We were notified the week before our deployment that we would be leaving 10/26/17. Days before we were told it was moved to the 24th.
Where did you work, primarily? And what did that work entail?
Our group work alongside a group of 10 from Mt Sinai in Fajardo, PR. Our mission was to assist with emergency room decompression. Essentially, we were seeing the overflow of patients the ED [emergency department] could not handle. Our makeshift “clinic” was actually three military tents. During my time there we saw nearly 2,000 patients.
Beyond the expected – and unexpected – devastation, you also have a personal connection to the country. Can you describe some of the emotional aspect of the experience?
The devastation really was unimaginable. I had no idea what I would be experiencing. Interestingly, when we flew into San Juan, I was surprised at how beautiful everything looked. I really did not see much devastation. It wasn’t until we drove through the countryside on route to Fajardo that we saw the loss of property firsthand. It will be years before it is all cleaned up.
One of those striking things I experienced was being reunited with family I had not seen in 41 years. I was hesitant to meet them because I felt it would be awkward, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be. I’m not sure if it was because of blood or a common experience, but there was little that divided us. They were just thankful that we cared enough to come to the aid of Puerto Rico. I had initially told them I could only spend a couple of hours with them because I had to work in the clinic – in case anything felt too uncomfortable. Thankfully, it was anything but weird and I was able to spend nearly 8 hours with them.
We drove to where they live in the mountainous region of PR. That’s where the destruction was greatest. They had not water, no electricity, no local grocery store… and yet they had everything. Their resiliency was awe inspiring. I left feeling a bit guilty. I’m not sure I would be as positive as they were had I been in their shoes. Actually, I’m not sure most of us would be as positive.
And finally, what can folks here in Rochester do to support the continued effort to rebuild?
I think the best thing folks here can do is donate money to the Red Cross. The Red Cross can help from there. The other important thing we all need to remember is the importance of voting. It is an embarrassment that our current administration took so long to act.
Ed note: Visit RedCross.org for more information on the Red Cross’ efforts in Puerto Rico and other areas impacted by the hurricanes. It’s important to research charities to fully understand how they might spend your money. The Red Cross allows special designation for donations to “Disaster Relief”. Charity Navigator is a good resource to learn more about any organization before you donate.